It may be hard to believe, but 17 years have passed since terrorists hijacked commercial jetliners and flew them into the Twin Towers, in an unprecedented attack on the United States homeland, and changing the way that Americans in general – and New Yorkers in particular – view the world.
For those of us who lived through the attack, and even more so for those who lost loved ones and colleagues at Ground Zero, memories of the day are still vivid — a shifting montage of images of devastation, and unparalleled heroics by those who rushed in to save the thousands of strangers trapped in the World Trade Center, all overshadowed by the plumes of smoke and clouds of ash rising from the ruins of structures that had previously dominated the city skyline.
In southern Brooklyn, the impact of the attacks was particularly profound. With many members of the uniformed services and many financial sector employees who worked in lower Manhattan among area residents, and a clear view of the horrific events unfolding just across the water, neighborhoods such as Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Bensonhurst were deeply shaken .
The ensuing years have brought further challenges. The health of many of those who labored at Ground Zero looking for survivors and then for the remains of those who perished has suffered because of their heroics. Every week, it seems, brings news of new deaths among those who were exposed to the toxic fumes; according to one attorney who represents 9/11 victims and survivors, every 2.7 days, a member of the 9/11 community dies prematurely.
And those who lost a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a father, a mother or a friend on that awful day have had to reinvent their lives, paying tribute always to those who died but learning, somehow, to go on living, if not for themselves then for those they lost.
As New Yorkers, as citizens of the world, we have also had to learn how to live in a post-9/11 world – to be wary, but not overly suspicious; to trust, but not too much; to reach out not only to those who are familiar, but to those who are different, in our own city and around the globe.
To say we will never forget does not begin to encompass the complexity of the day and its aftermath.
For all those who never came home from work that sunny Tuesday, for all those who emerged scarred from the cataclysm, we will always remember.