Four years ago today, millions of people watched with horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City burned, and then collapsed. For many who lost loved ones on that day, the emotional wounds are as raw today as they were four years ago.
But what about those who did not lose anyone close to them? VOA recently sat down with three such people to talk about remembering… and moving on.
The first person was Moira Davenport, a doctor at New York's Bellevue Hospital. On September 11, 2001, she was in her second year of a residency program in Emergency Medicine. "That was a very frustrating experience," she recalls. "Each hospital has a disaster protocol, and the emergency department was filled with physicians, nurses, techs - everybody wanting to do something, and just having nothing to do."
The second New Yorker we spoke with is Leo Eisenstein, a 12th grader at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx. September 11, 2001, was his first day of high school, an important milestone in any American teenager's life. "I was 13, and I was in trumpet class, actually," he says, speaking of the moment when the first plane hit. "We had no idea, because trumpet class is in sort of a secluded part of the building. The rest of the school had been brought into an assembly, and we'd been sort of forgotten about."
The third person VOA spoke to is Michael Powell, a trombone player for the American Brass Quintet in New York. On September 11, 2002, he was in Central Park, playing in the memorial concert that was held to mark the first anniversary of that tragic day. "It was a beautiful evening, the park was absolutely packed, and it was just a very good evening of remembrance," he says. "You know, music is very powerful stuff. It's a great unifier, and I think that in times in human history, when it's hard to kind of come up with the correct words, that's when music is really handy."
Moira, Leo, and Michael do not know anyone who died, or was even injured on September 11, 2001. They did not lose their jobs, and they were not forced to leave their homes because of debris or toxic fumes. But they all say their lives changed forever on that day.
"I think it makes [people] - particularly New Yorkers - think a little bit," Moira Davenport says. "Whereas before, you would never think twice about taking the subway here, or going to this event, or going to this country. [Now] there's that little hesitancy, and that little thought of 'what if' that wasn't there before."
"It made me realize that just because I live in New York, and just because I go to a good high school, and I live on the Upper West Side (i.e. an exclusive neighborhood), and just because I live in the U.S.," Leo Eisenstein says, "That doesn't mean that I'm invincible. [It] doesn't mean that this country's invincible."
"Every time I go to the airport. Every time I take the train," Michael Powell says, "Every time I look up and see a camera that wasn't there before. Every time I see the Hercules Squad (i.e. the New York Police Department's emergency response unit) go zooming through New York in their black vehicles. Yeah. Things are not the same now."
A couple of years after the terrorist attacks, Moira Davenport was offered a job at a hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about 650 kilometers west of New York. She took it, and seriously considered never returning to the city where the twin towers once stood... except that her nieces and her sister are here. And so she moved back to New York two months ago.
"For my nieces right now, they're so young and so innocent, that I don't think they would really understand what September 11th was," Moira says. "But I think they should know, and I think that they will be exposed to it. Little things in their lives will make them wonder what exactly happened on September 11, 2001. You know, seeing the military officers on the subway system, seeing the bomb-sniffing dogs on the subway, seeing the bag searches on the subway."
The first summer after September 11th, Leo Eisenstein attended a camp called "Seeds of Peace." Teenagers from around the world travel to this camp in the state of Maine, to learn about one another and develop an understanding of the issues that affect people's lives. Leo has been attending the camp every year ever since.
"This past summer, I was at Seeds of Peace again, and I was there when the London bombings occurred," he notes. "There was this really blatant disconnect between how Americans and also kids who live in London reacted to the bombings, and how kids from the rest of the world reacted, because for us, it was something so shocking and scary, and for a lot of other people in the rest of the world, it's become sort of tragically commonplace."
On the first, second, and third anniversaries of the terrorist attacks, Michael Powell was very busy playing in memorial concerts around New York, first in Manhattan, the next year in Brooklyn, and last year in Queens. "This year my date book is empty," he says with an almost ironic smile. "I think perhaps people are - you know, while they're remembering September 11th - I certainly am - I think that there may be other things on their mind now. Now the country's totally preoccupied by the big disaster along the Gulf Coast, so I think that there are several things vying for our attention."
Americans, Michael Powell says, have started to move on. This fourth anniversary is going to be just another workday for Moira Davenport. Michael Powell will be practicing with the other members of his quintet for a concert they will be performing in Connecticut at the end of the month. And Leo Eisenstein plans to hang out with some friends. Perhaps they will go to the Big Apple Arts Fair, or the Third Avenue Street Fair, or the Fordham Road Renaissance Festival. All three celebrations are taking place in New York on September 11th.
Still, these New Yorkers say they will be taking a moment to remember and reflect. And when asked, they all said they could not imagine a year when September 11th comes and goes, and they do not find themselves harking back to the tragic events of that day in 2001.