Thursday morning I woke up and felt like shit. Not physically - physically I felt fine - but mentally and emotionally I just didn't want to get out of bed, didn't want to see anyone, and didn't want to go to work. I was in a funk, and it didn't get any better when I stepped out of the house wearing my suede Puma sneakers and it started pouring down rain.
The whole walk to work I was annoyed and my sadness was growing. I figured it was because it was Thursday and I really wanted it to be Friday, yadda yadda, and also the onset of fall, combined with a dash of introspection of the "shit, what am I doing with my life" variety. But when I got to work and switched on my computer, the first thing I read on opening the web browser were the words 9/11. I couldn't believe I had forgotten, and for the rest of the day I couldn't tell if my overwhelming sadness was a product of my current life situation or some sort of subconscious reaction to the yearly anniversary of my lifetime's defining national tragedy.
Okay, I am the first to admit that I am lucky: I was not in New York on Sept 11, 2001, I lost no family members or close friends. The most I was physically affected by the events on that day was that it was harder for me to get around Europe the following summer without having to explain that I didn't support President Bush. But for someone whose family history is rooted in and around New York City, whose father worked (and now works again) in that capital of business, and who has built a lifetime of dreams upon walking its streets, watching that invasion was like having an organ removed without anesthesia. It physically hurt to watch the CNN broadcasts that day, and the days following, and it still hurts to remember those visuals.
The summer preceding September 11th was the first summer I worked in New York City. I commuted via NJ Transit to Newark, then took the PATH train to the West Village and walked down Hudson Street to Soho where my job was located. I was a young and dreamy designer, and everything from the coffee at my favorite coffee shop to the children going to camp at a local elementary school to various shops located on my walking route inspired me. Not in the least, my skyline view on my walk filled me with a tenderness for New York that only residents of the city can even begin to understand: walking down Hudson, the twin towers rose above the hundred-year-old brownstones and gleaming glass galleries and converted warehouses like a beacon and symbol of what could be. New York's West Side was once home to the city's hard industries, and today it has transitioned to manufacturing tons of capital. The World Trade Center was a defiant stake in the ground of Manhattan, and America's, future progress, anchoring the island in a sea of turbulent economic and political change.
My internship ended that summer on August 25ish, a Friday, and by that Sunday I was back in Syracuse for the beginning of my junior year of college. Everything I did that year was influenced by my summer in New York; I had seen what being a designer was like, what working in the creative capital of America could be, and I was hooked. So to see such a massive symbol of that summer come crashing down mere days after I left was soul-crushing. I remember not really breathing as the birds continued to twitter outside and the sun actually shone in Syracuse. It was surreal, that whole day was surreal, and pain in my chest lingered for days.
Every year now, no matter where I am, I feel that pain. When I lived in Philly, 9/11 was discussed on television and radio news shows and I tuned in voraciously; when I lived in New York, there was a palpable feeling of anguish in the air that no one acknowledged but everyone felt. Every year I would see the day on the calendar, and know it's coming; then I'd exit the subway the night of September 10, look up and see the twin beams of light, and it was the beginning of a ritual atonement. This year, I nearly forgot. My body remembered, however, and I think that is the most frightening - yet reassuring - part. Frightening in that I could even begin to forget an event that has so defined my life, yet reassuring how the body processes information and releases chemicals to remind us of what is important, what we know we should do yet resist. I could have simply let 9/11 go by and shut out the memories, but instead my body said slow down.
Not long after 9/11, Robert DeNiro directed and narrated an American Express commercial that was an ode to New York. Every time I watch that commercial, even today, I tear up and think of how much New York means to me. It's hard being this far away from that city where I cut my teeth and scraped my knees. It was hard, on 9/11, to be in another part of the world and read the newspaper reports of Obama and McCain tried not to campaign in the pit, how the government(s) are screwing around with the memorials, and hear how grieving relatives still justifiably demand answers. But at the end of that long day, I realized that this is what true remembering really is: doing what one needs to do to keep a memory of a moment in time alive, while continuing to move forward. Not an easy task, but DeNiro did it the best way he knew how - through film. If, as a designer, I can, through my work, help people do that for themselves, then I will have really learned something during that summer and its postscript.