Today it is 19 years since the terror attack that killed 3,000 people out of a clear blue New York City sky. It feels strange to say that. It is strange to have colleagues who have but the scant memory of young children of that day.
For me and most New Yorkers of a certain age, it is a moment that exists outside of time, that is evoked whenever we see the Twin Towers in an old movie or television show. The tribute of lights each year stops us in our tracks. But this year is different. This year, the greatest city on earth is suffering more than it ever has since that evil act was perpetrated on it.
The tragedy of the lockdown is very different from the tragedy of 9/11. The latter was a quick gut punch, a day of horror. We remember seeing footage of hospitals awaiting emergency victims who never arrived because their bones were crushed beneath our city’s tallest buildings. It all happened so fast.
The lockdown has instead been a slow-motion six months of asphyxiation. But there is one similarity between the two awful events. They are the only two things that I ever, in my life, have known to slow New York City down.
New York is fast. We walk fast, we talk fast, everything is quick, lickety-split done and moved on to the next thing. In the weeks after 9/11, the city was full of slow, shocked faces carried by bodies moving at half their normal speed. I never saw that again until this year. This year, once we ground our usual non-stop grind to a near standstill, the city lost its pace, its quickness. We still don’t have it back.
That’s why this year 9/11 has a new meaning. For the first time, we must call on the heroes of that day — and there were only heroes, no victims. Every man and woman who went to work that day, from the CEOs to the janitors, were heroes, avatars of the American dream. Today we need their example, their courage, and their spirit.
The firemen and cops who rushed into those buildings, never to return, must be our example as our businesses fail, as our kids go without education, as violent crime rises, and simple human acts like funerals are denied. Our suffering is real. It is a lingering weight and we know not when it will be lifted, but we know that one day soon it will. Like the gleaming tower that now stands on the ground zero of all our tragedy, our lives will get back to normal.
We lost 25,000 lives in Gotham to this virus that struck not like planes in a stark moment of explosion, but slowly, like the descent of the death we all must one day face. We mourn them as we did the dead of 19 years ago.
But the heroes of 9/11 taught us a lesson, one we have not had occasion to consider until now. They taught us that this city, this miraculous place that we all make together with the souls of the past and hand to those of the future, is bigger than us because of us. Today for the first time, 9/11 is less about sadness and more about inspiration.
The brave men and women who sacrificed themselves for us on that awful day did so for a reason — not just because it was their job, not just because they were good people, not just because New York City is a place where we take care of one another. They did so because they believed in us. They believed in a place where anything is possible. They believed in the same dream that so many of our ancestors did a hundred years ago when they arrived on ships passing by Lady Liberty’s torch.
9/11 is a day of sadness. As long as Gotham stands gleaming in the reflection of the Hudson, it always will be. But today it is more. Today it is a reminder that you can knock this city down, but it will get back up again, again, and again. Let us allow today to mark a new beginning. Let the inspiration of our heroes dedicate us to climbing out of the hole we are in with heads high, and as always, let us never forget.