September 11 is etched in my mind as a time of horror, fear and mourning, but also a time when New Yorkers came together in a way I rarely have seen before or since.
I was in my office that day when one of my favorite students walked in, telling me, with a shaking voice, that she and her roommates had heard that a plane had stuck the World Trade Center. I didn't know what to think, but I knew we could see the Twin Towers from the windows of my sixth floor seminar room, so I opened the door and looked out . From there, as other faculty and students joined us, we saw the first tower collapse, then the second, terrified not only at the deaths of thousands, if not tens of thousands that would ensue, but at the inevitably consequences of an attack that involved such damage.
In the days that followed, the pain got personal. Three coaches I worked with in Brooklyn CYO, one of them the father of one of my son's best friends, had died trying to save people in the Twin Towers.
In the hours that followed, I like many others, tried to find out what happened to loved ones who worked in Lower Manhattan, especially my daughter and son in law. Both thank God, were alive. I also called Liz, who was heroically trying to hold things together in PS 321 where she was the principal, especially when she found out that some of the teachers had spouses who worked in the Twin Towers. This was going to be a tragedy that left almost no one unaffected. And I looked inside myself and prayed that I would have the courage to deal with the pain, and the fear, and panic, not only inside me, but in so many others.
In the days that followed, the pain got personal. Three coaches I worked with in Brooklyn CYO, one of them the father of one of my son's best friends, had died trying to save people in the Twin Towers. They had run up the stairs as others ran down. As had 11 firefighters in our local firehouse in Park Slope. And I knew there were neighborhoods I took teams I coached to, Rockaway, Bay Ridge, Marine Park, that were filled with police officers and firefighters. And the death toll there was going to be terrible.
And this made me feel enraged at the attack. Whatever protest against US foreign policy those who flew into the buildings had intended, the primary blow they had struck was at working class New York—killing secretaries, building maintenance workers, those who worked in cafeterias and restaurants, along with the brokers and government workers and the police, firefighters, EMS workers and other first responders. I was enraged at those who had done this to my city and to people I had known and worked with and admired.
And I felt a surge of patriotism run through me. I was not alone in this feeling All along Eastern Parkway, in largely West Indian and African American neighborhoods, I saw American flags flying. As I did along the Bruckner expressway in the Bronx. I saw tough young people of every race and nationality wearing American flag bandannas. In solidarity, I wore one myself and taught in it for several weeks.
People all over the city volunteered to help at the site of the attacks and at the rescue centers and hospitals where victims were taken. The generosity was unreal. New Yorkers clung to one another, reassured one another, helped one another to get back to work. And brave brave people risked their lives to repair all that had been broken physically and emotionally.
And we mourned together. In my neighborhood, Park Slope, 5,000 people joined a march from PS 321 to the local firehouse on Union street where we laid wreaths and memorial dedicated to the brave firefighters that died.
I feel compelled to write about this now, at a time when we are more divided, as a nation, than any time since the late 60's. I need some of that spirit of unity again. Maybe it can help avert future tragedies.
With A Brooklyn Accent