The morning of my twenty-sixth birthday began with a phone call from my boyfriend. It would change my birthday forever.
“Lynn, have you been watching the news?”
I don’t watch the news; it’s too depressing. He knows this.
What I was about to see would burn in my mind and give a whole new meaning to the news is too depressing.
“Why would I be watching the news?”
“Just… Turn on the TV.”
I sat on my bed and did as he said. The television played footage of an airplane crashing into the North Twin Tower. The South Tower came down shortly afterwards.
I grabbed my head and moaned, “No…”
Immobile, I watched the news replay the horror of the buildings collapse. These towers were a symbol of the time in my life that made me, well, me.
I moved to New Jersey from a small town in Northern Wisconsin when I was eighteen. I lived twenty minutes from “the city.” (Friends constantly needed to remind me as to which city they were referring, as the whole area was one big city to me.)
Each weekend I went by bus on the Garden State Highway, through the Lincoln Tunnel and into Manhattan. As we exited the tunnel, The Projects loomed above us. Continuing on, the Twin Towers rose up in the distance, the majestic king and queen looking over their loyal subjects.
I would stare at the towers, craning my neck to see them as long as possible. The people hiding behind their newspapers or leaning against the window with their eyes closed perplexed me.
How could anyone take that view for granted?
The towers symbolized a time of finding myself. In my year on the East Coast, I gained confidence as I learned to navigate public transportation, drive a stick shift on highways with more than two lanes, and apply make up so expertly that I passed for twenty-one.
Most important, I realized that although I came from a small town, I was capable of doing large things.
This time in my life was a turning point: There was Lynn pre-New York City and Lynn post-New York City. The magnificent towers reminded me of this whenever I saw them.
Nearly eight years after I lived there, I watched them crumble into a pile of memories.
Later, I would mourn the lives lost.
I would donate money in a firefighter’s boot.
And I’d grieve for the towers that lived in this great city, inanimate, yet just as alive as any New Yorker.
But in that moment, as the world watched together, all I could feel was shock.
My birthday plans were to meet my boyfriend for breakfast and then go to school. I was on autopilot walking to the restaurant, eating, and driving to school.
The weight of this tragedy hung in the air.
Campus students walked around in slow motion, statues come alive and uncertain how to proceed in this new world.
The news was turned on in my English Literature class. There was no chatter in the classroom, no commentary about what we watched. The students were silent; their gazes fixed on the screen as the destruction played over and over, a recurring nightmare.
I began to look at things as pre-Twin Towers and post-Twin Towers.
My children’s births were post-Twin Towers. They’ll never get to see them, and this breaks my heart.
An old movie with the Towers could elicit a tightening in the chest.
A memory of my time in New York could tie a knot in my stomach.
A year ago I visited Manhattan to celebrate my fortieth birthday. It was the first time I’d gone back since my coming-of-age experiences twenty-two years earlier.
My mom and I visited Ground Zero on our last day. As soon as we stepped into the memorial, the atmosphere changed.
Just blocks away, taxi horns honked and people yelled, but within the walls of where the Towers once stood, the air was solemn. People spoke in heavy whispers, respectful and reverent.
A well of emotion overcame me.
At the memorial, Reflecting Absence, I traced my fingers over the engraved names. The names reflected the diversity of all the lives lost that day – women and men who were not only American, but also Hindu, Jewish, Russian, and more…
The terrorists destroyed buildings and thousands of people, but they hadn’t destroyed what made and continues to make America great:
Open arms that welcome anyone wanting to become part of our diverse family.
And we must remember this to honor those who lost their lives and those who are weighed down by that day’s loss.
We will stand together as a symbol of America’s greatness.