Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering September 11

I have a great view from the Toy Apartment.  Wide expanses of green courtesy of the nearby golf and country clubs, cars on curving highways providing contrasts in color and motion, and twinkling lights of the city skyline dotting the night.

I'm pretty much used to it by now; I see it every day.  But for some reason, the view tonight took my breath away, and I paused for a moment before reaching into my bag to see if I could capture this beauty with my trusty little point-and-shoot.

It's funny that I would do this today of all days, because the only time I used to do this before was when I lived in New York, in an apartment with a gorgeous view that still managed, every so often, to stop me in my tracks. This usually happened in the summer and early fall when the days were longer and I'd be home before sundown.

I didn't have a view of the sunset proper, but the skies would turn every glorious shade of vermilion, saffron and persimmon against a backdrop of avocado, cornflower and indigo. Sorry. I'm not a writer adept enough to pull off such flowery prose, but red, orange, yellow and blue just don't quite cut it in this instance. I lived with that view for nine years, and still.

And on an achingly perfect fall day like September 11, 2001, the kind that convinces every New Yorker he or she lives in the best city in the world, I stared out my window, mesmerized by the large and menacing dark cloud of smoke that hovered over the space where the twin towers of the World Trade Center used to be.

I don't talk much about my own 9/11 experience.  It just seems so insignificant compared to the horror and grief experienced by so many of my friends, colleagues and countless other New Yorkers. And yet I still count that day as one of the worst, if not the worst of my life.

My memories of walking home that day, feeling as if I'd stumbled onto the set of some Tom Cruise summer blockbuster disaster flick are as vivid as ever. Even more vivid are the desperate faces of so many people walking around aimlessly, holding up photos of their loved ones with signs saying, "Have you seen this person?"

That sight would become even more heartbreaking as days and weeks went by. Sometimes it was all I could do not to grab the person, shake them hard, then hug them tight while murmuring over and over, "I'm so sorry. Don't you see? If you haven't found him by now, he's not coming back! I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

It's been 11 years since 9/11. I moved back to Manila 10 years ago and haven't seen New York in seven.  But today, September 11, 2012, and, I suspect, every September 11 for the rest of my life, I will still and always feel like a New Yorker.

Every September 11, I will remember their grief and grieve alongside them.  I will remember their incredible kindness and generosity during that terrible time, and I will be awed.  I will marvel at their indomitable courage and resilience and will consider myself honored to, at one point, have been a New Yorker myself.  Because New Yorkers are truly amazing.  And New York, I love you so damn much. In my heart of hearts, you'll always be the best city in the world.

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