Twenty Years After 9/11
There are hundreds of memorials to the victims of 9/11 scattered throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Dozens of towns have set aside spaces that encourage people to pause and reflect on the events of that day. At the Shrine of St. Josephs in Stirling, New Jersey, I recently visited the 35-foot-high Tower of Remembrance. The memorial combines steel from the North Tower of the World Trade Center and bells from the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity’s Seminary in Virginia.
I slowly ran my fingers down the rusted steel edges of the memorial, and it brought back childhood memories. In the 1980s, my father was a successful real estate lawyer who occupied the corner office on the one hundredth floor of the North Tower. He would sometimes bring our family to his office for a visit or special event.
As a child, coming up from the subway and entering the towers among caffeinated commuters scrambling toward their workdays was exhilarating. My dad would hold my hand and navigate so I didn’t get trampled. The grandness of the concourse with flags hanging down framed the enormity of the building.
Moments later the sea of humanity was reduced to narrow lines of workers queuing outside of elevators. It took two rides to reach the one hundredth floor. “They move fast,” my dad would say. “And your ears will pop, so chew this gum as we ride up.” Riding in the elevators felt like being inside a drafty rocket ship. And they always seemed to ride past the floor you were seeking and then recessed and slowly pulsed downward until their doors flew open. My stomach would churn and then reset when the bell rang, signaling the end of the ride.
It was during those elevator rides that I watched my dad’s energy rise as he imagined his busy day. For him it was another day at work, but I was entering a foreign, yet friendly, land that floated a mile up in the sky. It was intimidating, fun, exciting, and joyful.
Once in the lobby of Dad’s law office, I remember shaking hands with secretaries and partners. “This is my youngest son, Danny,” Dad would say. Looking out his massive office window at Brooklyn, I could feel the building slowly sway in the wind. Clouds and fog would bump into the glass. Other times you could see only beautiful blue sky.
I would sit at Dad’s desk with my feet up and a notepad in my hand, trying to impersonate him. I would deliver packages from the mail room to partners’ offices. Some would invite me in their offices for a chat. They would recall stories my dad had told them about me and my family.
During the one hundredth anniversary celebrations of the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1983, dozens of people packed into my father’s corner office. All dressed up for the big party, my sister, Lynn, and I sipped Shirley Temples with extra cherries as the fireworks display unfolded. A radio was tuned to an FM station because they had set the fireworks to music for the first time. The room was loud with the many voices of adults holding cocktails firmly in their hands. The room quieted when white light reflected in our eyes. Sparks streamed down like a waterfall from the bridge into the river. One of the partners commented that this would likely be the only time we would experience fireworks from above. It was a heavenly and hopeful night.
A few times my dad and I ate lunch at the Windows on the World restaurant. During father–son events with the New York Mets, I once sat next to Ron Darling and across from Keith Hernandez — heady encounters for a young boy who thought he was meeting New York royalty. Somehow, my dad always made sure I was sitting at or near the head table. Thank you for that, Dad.
My father never lived to see the towers fall.
Days of Joy and Sorrow
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting at my desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working on a proposal with my colleague, John Devanney, when the news arrived. A young coworker had called from lower Manhattan moments after the first plane hit the first tower. She told John she would be late to the office because of the falling debris. John told her to be safe and not to worry about getting to the office. As I listened to this brief exchange, my mind began to do what terrorists long for — race, imagine, and let fear take hold.
I turned to my web browser and hit refresh over and over. CNN published the first of millions of images of bellowing smoke rising from the building that symbolized so much to me as a child. News came in that the Pentagon had been hit by another plane. America was breaking into pieces as unchecked imagination and deep uncertainty blended into toxic plumes of smoke.
I went home, bringing two colleagues with me who could not return to their homes in New York City because all travel had been suspended. I hugged my wife just outside the door of our house, and we wept. Inside with our guests, we huddled around the television and tried to find meaning and context. Stunned silence was punctured only by the non-hyperbolic voice of the television anchor Peter Jennings.
Less than a year and half before the towers fell, I had proposed to my then girlfriend on one knee in-between the towers. Seventeen months after such a joyful afternoon, we watched a beloved landmark reconfigured into a sacred, explosive grave site.
The Twin Towers were always more than buildings to me. They were and remain iconic and dreamy markers connecting me to youthful pride in my dad’s professional accomplishments and the heart-stopping moment of asking a beautiful woman to spend her life with me.
Of Baseball and Normalcy
In the weeks after 9/11, I felt a combination of anxiety and sullenness — I didn’t hear people laughing on the street or in restaurants. Celebrations even for mundane events like birthdays were swept away by the sadness and anger that crept into the American psyche. We needed something to counter that sadness — something to give us a reason to smile again. We needed something to point toward order and routine and to distract and momentarily amaze. Enter baseball.
The New York Mets won the first MLB game that was held eleven days after the attack. The game is remembered for a two-run home run by catcher Mike Piazza at Shea Stadium. A few nights later and just below ground in Yankee Stadium, shortstop Derek Jeter coached then President Bush on how to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Jeter told Bush that the NY fans will boo you unless you throw from the mound and not an inch closer to the plate. Bush heeded the advice and thrilled the crowd with his presence and well-delivered strike over the plate. Those MLB games unleashed healing, pride, nationalism, hope, and snippets of much-needed normalcy.
Fittingly, the New York Mets and Yankees will play on this twentieth anniversary of 9/11 at Citi Field in Queens. I will be there with my son, sister, nephew, and brother-in-law. We will tear up as first responders and families of the fallen take to the field. We will pause to teach new generations the significance of this anniversary. We will remember two wars, police officers, brave heroes, soldiers, marines, nurses, firefighters, and airmen. We will once again see the faces of average, unarmed civilians flash across the screen — those who took to work in the sky on a sunny blue-sky morning, only to vanish from this earth into a ghostly haze.
That night, we will also hear an umpire call balls, strikes, and outs. We will cheer at the simple game of baseball and its moments of near perfection. We will shake our heads at its maddening complexity and ability to humble. We will bicker about close calls that didn’t go our team’s way. Perhaps, and with a little magic, another home run will puncture the cool New York night air, and the roar of the crowd will help us fall asleep later that night.
And the next year on the same day, we will again remember everything that happened on 9/11.
May God bless all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in the years of war that have followed.
Note to readers: Each year for the last decade, this essay has been revised/edited/updated and or rewritten in its entirety. It remains a living document that connects me to all that we lost and must never forget.