For Some New Yorkers, 9/11 Begins the Week Before

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The joy – and the accompanying anxiety – of living near the Tribute in Light.

For years I lived in Brooklyn, where our daughter was born and raised.  In fact, I actually moved into Brooklyn right after 9/11.  At that time, I lived in White Plains and worked in Gramercy.  Like so many others, I was in the city when the towers fell.  Along with my co-workers at an advertising agency, we watched it all unfold in horror.  My father also worked in the city, much closer to the towers, and my mother and I anxiously stayed in contact while we waited to hear from him.  While we waited, I knew we needed to get out of the office, so I went with a co-worker to her place in Stuyvesant.

One the way from the office to her apartment, we were still in shock, immediately realizing that the city would never be the same, New York police were joined by the military personnel, and all of them were swarming the streets.  Although their military and riot weapons were on full display, for the first time I wasn’t nervous because of them, but actually felt safer.  Good people were going to make it better.  My father called my mother, I made it home, and we all began to process and deal individually, as a family, and as a country.

So while many residents were leaving the city and suburbs, I made the decision to move into Brooklyn.  It was challenging to live in the city during the weeks after, compounded by the fact that I was a new resident, but I knew that we were safe, and I was already growing to love this city.

We remained in Brooklyn for years, and after the cleanup was completed, we were able to watch the new World Trade Center and 9/11 memorial be built.  Most of that was from a distance, but  occasionally we would walk in the area, and we were able to see signs that all of New York was recovering. .

Every year, on 9/11, the city featured a tribute in lights, representing the two towers, reaching towards the stars. 9/11 is always a thoughtful day for New Yorkers and the lights are a beautiful albeit somber reminder.  From Brooklyn, it was a magical, infinite light reaching up.

The 9/11 lights, as seen from Downtown Brooklyn

The new WTC helped revitalize downtown New York and brought much needed shopping, restaurants and life to the area.  So after weathering the constant Brooklyn rent hikes we finally explored the possibility of living in the area and found a lovely 2 bedroom not too far from the new tower, even offering a partial view.  We fell in love and made the move from Brooklyn.

It was not until closer to the anniversary of 9/11 that our neighbors told us that we would be able to see the 9/11 lights right outside our window.  I had always thought they were set up at the actual site but they host the lights on the roof of the Battery Park garage.

The roof of the Battery Park garage

I wasn’t turned off by our proximity to the lights. After all, I moved into the city right after the attack. New Yorkers are a strong group, and I felt like I had become one over my 15 years of residency.  However, the anxiety I would feel as the staff prepped the lights for 9/11 caught me off guard.

The team sets up a week before 9/11 and up until the actual day they test the lights.  Up close, the light is vivid and looking down on where they begin is a bit surreal.  They use the days prior to align the lights and test the power, to make sure that things are perfect.  Creating a memorial that is so precise and so impactful every year, over and over, has to be incredibly difficult and, as millions of people who have seen it can attest, they do their job wonderfully, and it moves us all.

Still, that first night, when they run the generator trucks, and the first few lights fill the sky and light up our home, is jarring.  Even with just a few lights, you feel it.

Night view of here the lights begin

The vantage view from the street is striking, showing the lights reaching endlessly towards the stars.

View from the street by the garage

Viewing the tribute for days before 9/11 fills me with anxiety.  I had found it easier to allow myself to be distracted most days, but to come together with the rest of us and remember on 9/11.  Living so close to where it all happened is a wonderful opportunity to change the story.  This area isn’t only about death.  It is also about the recovery.  It is about living, and street fairs, and statues of fearless girls staring down giant brass bulls.

If you let yourself think every day about the horrors that happened here, can will never change the story.  But for the week leading up to 9/11, it isn’t always our choice to think about recovery.  The lights come on, and my mind is filled with the towers and those we lost.

Recently I went with my in-laws, husband, and daughter to the 9/11 Museum housed under the Memorial. It was so difficult to re-live each piece, and to re-realize that thousands of people died.  I think like most people, I focus on those who lost everything, and their loved ones, but sometimes I can’t help but think of the events of that day and how they changed my life and that of my family. I’m Pakistani, and in those moments, when people hurt the most, and they are helpless to make things better, they struck out at those who they felt deserved it in that moment.

I was born in Queens.  I was in the city when we were attacked, as was my father.  We’re Americans, but in those dark days, not everyone thought we deserved to be.  Still, I was lucky.  We made it out, and we have the opportunity to make things better.  We’re America, and we’re getting stronger every day.  I feel anxious that the lights make the decision to revisit those feelings and thoughts without my permission.  I appreciate everything it means, and how it moves us all.  I just wish I had a but more control over how much of my mental state it governs this week.  Maybe better blinds and more yoga could do the trick?

Regardless of the anxiety I experience during the testing period, I still love the lights. They are an absolutely beautiful tribute that all New Yorkers intuitively look up to see, particularly for the people who live in the vicinity.  And it’s reassuring to see the lights stretch up farther than we can see, in the hope it’s reaching those we have lost and will eventually be reunited with. #neverforget



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