I know many of you will be discussing September 11th with your students today and I wanted to share my story in the hopes that I can offer a fresh perspective. This is done in strict humility.
On September 11th I lived in Park Slope Brooklyn on the top floor of a 4 story walk up. My living room window looked out on lower Manhattan and on a very clear day I could a tiny little shadow on the northern end of Manhattan that was Riverside Church.
At 8:30 in the morning my girlfriend Tanya (now wife) woke me up saying,”Hey G, I think the World Trade Center is on fire”. This didn’t really concern me too much but I slowly got out of bed and took a look out the window. There were huge plumes of black smoke pouring out of the top floors of the building that were drifting towards in our direction.
I went up to the roof to get an even better look and noticed that all of the rooftops were down 5th avenue were topped with people watching the events unfold. After a time, we all saw the second plane come crashing into the other tower and stood there dumbfounded. Nobody knew what was going on.
The smoke was blanketing our neighborhood. I had to go downstairs and shut all of the windows because of all the ash that was coming into the house. I even noticed that my clothes were covered in a thin layer of ash. When I went back to the roof there were even pieces of office paper coming from the towers that floated overhead.
Eventually, the towers fell. I had no concept of time during all of this. It seemed to happen over the course of a few minutes but it did all take longer than that.
Around noon, Tanya and I decided we should go out and give blood. We lived by a hospital and figured that whatever was going on, there would be people who were injured and that emergency services and hospitals could make use of our donation. By the time we got there so many people had already given blood that we were turned away.
Bars, cafes, restaurants, and sidewalks were packed with people. Radios and televisions were all on everywhere with multiple stations going on at once in case there was some sort of clear explanation for what was happening.
Over the next few days details started to emerge and stories were being told of the all the people, firefighters, cops, health care workers, and regular folks trying to help people out of the towers. The stories of heroism and selflessness are incredible. There was so much hope…
During a time a chaos, crisis, and tragedy, New Yorkers were not running away from danger. They were running directly into the fire, and in many cases knowingly to their death, to help total strangers. This continued for months afterwards. Volunteers, people with all sorts of expertise, came to the WTC site to help clear out the destruction despite the dangers of Asbestos and a whole host of other toxic particles floating in the air.
For me, it’s hard to put this all down in writing into something that makes sense and really captures the sentiment of the time. I think what I am trying to express is that what I experienced in New York City during 9-11 and the weeks and months that followed was the capacity for people to put the needs of others ahead of their own. We as people, represent things that a far greater than ourselves; family, communities, our humanity.
I see September 11th as a time to reflect on the needs of our community and the things we can do to strengthen our bonds with other people and cultures. It’s not a time to pat ourselves on the back and think about how strong, resilient, and courageous we are as individuals but rather how strong, resilient, and courageous we are as a community. The towers falling showed us that we are all connected, we are all in need of each other, and the actions of one person impacts the entire community.
Always considering the happiness and needs of others ahead of your own is not a bad way to live your life.
SA had a super time with the group of six students from the John Talabot School of Barcelona, Spain! As the group sat around in the Global Studies Office the morning of their departure, we asked them, “What was the highlight of your visit to Pittsburgh?” Enthusiastic responses followed: “American hamburgers!” “The Warhol Museum”, “Rafting at Ohiopyle!”, “the Incline”, “FallingWater”, but unanimously the kids acclaimed: “THE SA TEACHERS ARE SO NICE!”
Thank you SA community for opening your classrooms, your homes and your hearts to our visitors. They went home with special memories.
SA students and faculty have traveled to many fascinating places this summer. The Global Studies Office can’t wait to hear from you — your impressions, your reflections, what you learned — and help you find ways to share the experience with others.
"Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and I remember more than I have seen."
Yasser Alaa Mobarak, an alum of iEARN-Egypt, was recently featured on the Adobe Blog, writing about his experiences using photography to affect postive social change. Yasser writes, “I encourage all photographers young and old to define success not by the awards you receive or the places you’ve been, but by putting yourself out there, creating change through your work.” Read more from this award-winning photographer and co-facilitator of the Adobe Youth Voices program in Egypt on the Adobe Blog.
Visiting England one is constantly reminded that this is the 100th Anniversary of WW1. To understand the symbolism of the poppy: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm
"To think that every pair of shoes once belonged to a person is almost unimaginable."