I fell in love with New York City when I was 5 years old. I had seen glimpses of it on Sesame Street, but mid-town Manhattan, where my father took me to work with him one day, was much bigger, louder and more exciting.
I remember getting off the train in Grand Central Station, my father taking my hand and briskly navigating the streets filled with cars, taxis, buses, trucks and lots and lots of people. I had no idea where we were going, but I could tell that we needed to do it quickly and with purpose.
Once inside the tall office building, I was introduced to his fellow staff members, then situated at a desk where I proceeded to unpack my briefcase (a toy doctor’s bag, which I had filled with paper, crayons and a snack) and get to work. I don’t remember much of the day, except for the part where I was brought into a screening room where I sat with my father and other executives who were reviewing a film with horses in it.
At the end of the day, we made the brisk, purposeful walk back to Grand Central. This time we stopped at one of the bakeries where my father always picked up a few chocolate éclairs, which were one of my absolutely favorite desserts. New York City was the best, most exciting place in the world!
Years later, I got to know different aspects of the city, through my visits with friends and family, school trips, various business meetings, and freelance work. As an 11-year-old, I went with family friends to a concert at Lincoln Center. We sat front and center, so close that I could see the puffs of rosin smoke coming off of the violinists’ fingers. As we walked back to the car after the concert, it began to snow. New York City at Christmas time is a magical place.
As a teenager, I visited a friend who had moved to The City as an emancipated minor. She guided me through the maze of subways, popping up at various points of interest, one of which was the World Trade Center. We rode to the top, and viewed New York City from high above the streets. It made my heart pound.
And over the years, I got to know the personalities of the various neighborhoods in The City, each with its own distinct sights and sounds. As a whole, there is an energy, a music, that The City has, which I have not experienced anywhere else.
So in 2001, when I was presented with the opportunity for a full-time position at a marketing research firm, I took it. It was in the Flat Iron district on Fifth Avenue, between 25th and 26th. I would take the train into Grand Central, then head over to Fifth Avenue, where I would walk the 17 blocks to my office. As I approached my building, I could see the Twin Towers looming high in the sky, even though they were many blocks away.
I enjoyed my job, mostly because of my colleagues and the location. There were a group of us who were big foodies, and our work neighborhood provided many opportunities to experience wonderful food – from very inexpensive dishes, to some very expensive dishes, all expertly prepared with fresh ingredients. Our building was right across from Madison Park, where we would see scenes from TV shows, like “Sex in the City,” “Law and Order,” and “Saturday Night Live,” being filmed. There was also lots of great shopping, and I spent more than one lunch hour scouring the stores within a 6-block radius.
Another nice thing about the job was that, once a week, I could work from our Connecticut office if I chose to. It was a small, three-room suite, and there were half a dozen of us who commuted from Connecticut, so we had to check ahead to make sure there was room. But it was nice to make a 20-minute commute rather than my usual hour-plus.
On one of the days that I decided to work from the Connecticut office, a beautiful September day, I was surprised to find that every other Connecticut person was there. We were crowded in, using up every workable surface, but everyone was easy-going, so it was no problem. Soon after I settled in, the guy who headed up the Connecticut office came out of his office to announce that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center Building We were all shocked and saddened by the news of this tragic accident. When he came out a few minutes later to tell us that a second plane had hit the second tower, we came to the horrible realization that something much more sinister was going on.
We got through to our colleagues in the New York City office, and found that they were okay, but were very worried and not sure what to do.
A while later, the guy who headed up the Connecticut office came out to tell us that he had just gotten off the phone with a dear friend of his. His friend was very upset – his son had just called to say goodbye. He was on Flight 93, which had been hijacked. He and some other passengers had made the decision, after hearing what had happened in New York, to take the plane down before it hit its target, whatever that might be. He was visibly shaken. And we all began to think that the entire country might be under attack.
We tried contacting the New York office, both by phone and by email, and were not able to get through. Not knowing what else to do, we finished out the day in numb astonishment, frequently reading updates on the BBC website and other news sources that we were able to access.
When I got home late that afternoon, I turned on the news and watched, still numb, the images of what I had only heard about during the day.
The next day, we received notice that our office would be closed for the remainder of the week. That evening, several emails and voice messages came through from people who had tried to contact me on the 11th to see if I was okay, people who thought I was in the City as I was supposed to be that day.
I eventually spoke to a colleague who had been in the office on the 11th. She told me that she had stepped outside and saw a stream of dust-covered people walking up Fifth Avenue. They were expressionless, clearly in shock. She said they looked like Zombies.
And when I returned to work the following week, I found New York had changed. When I stepped out of the train in Grand Central, I saw heavily armed police and their guard dogs standing near all the entrances. A notice board contained hundreds of photographs posted by people asking for information on missing family members. When I got out onto the street, the roads were eerily quiet. One of the distinctive sounds in Manhattan is the frequent beeping of car horns. This was noticeably absent. As I walked down Fifth Avenue, I passed a group of firemen in full dress uniform, solemnly walking to a funeral service. This was a scene that I would experience for the next few weeks, with heartbreaking regularity. I looked down the road to where the Twin Towers had always been visible rising above the other buildings, and all that was left was an antenna. And as I was about to step through the door to my office building, I happened to look down at my shoes. They were covered with a thick layer of dust and I realized that the sidewalk in front of my building was too. It occurred to me that this was the powdered remnants of the Twin Towers and their occupants.
After some time had passed, the comforting noises of New York returned, and the dust dissipated. But for many weeks after, the photographs of missing loved ones, the armed guards and the sad looks on people’s faces served as a reminder of the painfully horrific events of the day. I grieved, and I hurt for the victims, their families, the City, this country and the world. I prayed every day for peace and healing. And I marveled at the strength and beauty of the people of New York, at their best in the wake of this incredible tragedy.
Ten years later, I continue to pray for peace and healing, and I hold out hope that one day our world will be a place where something like this would never happen again.