Current Events, Grief And Loss

Survivors’ Stairs 

Leave it to me to make my first visit to NYC and opting to pay homage at Ground Zero.  I am sure my travel buddy husband would have preferred to head to Central Park or something else. But he humored me and we both were blessed by the experience.  I was 26 when I stood next to police officers at my old police payroll civilian job, watching some of the toughest dudes I know allow tears to fall freely.  We had just ran to the cafeteria in time to see the second plane hit.   Hands over mouth. Silent.

The memories of life before and after 9-11 came back in trickles then tidal waves of emotions at the 911 Museum. We walked into spaces with mangled metal. Timelines set minute by minute outlining what would be a defining moment in our nation’s history. Death had come to our soil. Terrorism had come to pay its due. We sat to listen to voices of loved ones sharing the memories of those who now make up walls of faces. Nearly 3000 photos of people overwhelmed one corridor. Wedding photos. Graduation photos. Fuzzy photos. Smiling faces. Stern faces. Mild faces. Serious faces. Young faces. Old faces. All faces no longer with us. Faces frozen in time. 

I think the room that hit me the most was the one of first responders realizing this disaster was truly beyond any earthly understanding. Hearing the radio chatter from one battalion leader to the next. Smoke. Burning flesh. People trapped on floors responders would never be able to get to. Making promises they knew they could never keep. And I’m sitting there hoping that they will be like the protagonist in the movies. That they will save the day and everyone goes home. We get to the end and none of them make it. An entire fire house gone. One survivor was exiting what is now known as The Survivors Stairs, the only stairwell in one of the buildings that was still functioning. “I saw the firefighters going up to help other people. I realized that I was going down to live and they were going up to their death.” 

In times like these, I am saddened by the state of our world. So much suffering. So much evil. There is yet that still small voice that whispers reminders of hope. The first responder who was just done signing off on some retirement papers made his way to Ground Zero. The architect and metal worker who knew how to dismantle this hundred year old edifice to find survivors made their way to Ground Zero. Total strangers who held on to purses and workbags praying and searching for their owners. Countless stories of humanity at its best. Refusing to bow to evil. 

There was one American not on Earth that fateful morning. From his vantage point, astronaut Frank Culberston was told by NASA that we were “not having a very good day down here on Earth.”  He was halfway done reading Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” and felt halfway into fiction and halfway into reality. His words still ring true fifteen years later. “Many things will never be the same again after September 11, 2001. Not just for the thousands and thousands of people directly affected by these horrendous acts of terrorism, but probably for all of us.” 

When we now find ourselves along divisive lines with rhetoric as our weapons, I want us to think of that fateful September morning. When the dust and debris from the fallen buildings hid the color of one’s skin.  And that no one stopped to ask about creed or faith or beliefs as they each helped each other run/walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. As each person took steps down the Survivors’ Stairs escaping death, there was no checking for status or where you stood in your politics. It was simply humananity trying to hold on to each other for dear life. 

To the memory of those whose lives were cut short that September morning.