When you think of New Yorkers, you think of brashness, an air of conceit and arrogance, and ubiquitous pride. Every single day of my life, I am proud to be from New York; that feeling is accentuated and inflated today. 9/11 was a tragedy that Americans will never forget, but New Yorkers will always remember. When you’re from New York, this day hits especially hard; the pain is more tangible, the sadness more profound.
I live in Pelham, New York, one of the towns that borders the Bronx to the north. The train to Grand Central from Pelham takes about a half hour, so many Pelhamites commute to the city every day for work. Now, I go to school some 500 miles away from New York, and I thought that today, in my second year at college, the guilt of being away from New York would be a little less numbing and the especially poignant sadness would be a little less debilitating than it was last year. Instead, I’m thinking even more of my high school classmates who lost loved ones in parents or cousins or brothers or sisters. I’m thinking of my youth soccer coach who, six years ago to this day, told our team the story of his two brothers in law who passed away that day while he cried in front of us. I’m thinking of my seventh grade social studies teacher who showed us the news coverage from that day on YouTube as she broke down in front of my classmates and me and attempted to explain what that day meant to her.
For a long time, I’ve struggled to say exactly what 9/11 means to me; I’ve always known the reaction that it should elicit and I’ve always known what I should think about it, but that is just because of what everyone else thinks. But now, I can more confidently express what it means to me. It means immense sadness, but I think more appropriately, it evokes tremendous pride and emotion, along with solidarity to other New Yorkers. I think of the time that President Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium as he wore an FDNY sweatshirt, just over a month after the 9/11 attacks.
This beautiful moment so perfectly shows the strength and pride of the city and the people in it, with the cameras flashing in the background as Bush approaches the mound, the thumbs up that he gives the crowd, and the crowd’s roar of approval to show that they understood the importance of what was occurring. There are so many videos just like this that can strip the viewers down to their emotional cores and leave them crying until they no longer show signs of emotion other than the salty residue of tears on their cheeks. Every year on this day, I watch ESPN’s The Man in the Red Bandana, the story of Welles Crowther, a hero who gave his life so that he could save those of others. I see the sadness that his parents will live with for the rest of their lives, but more importantly, I see the pride that they have for raising someone who can now be called a hero.
The tears that millions of people will cry today are good; they show that “Never Forget” is more than just a catchy slogan or a hashtag to throw in on social media posts every year. They show that those 2,996 people who passed away in those attacks are remembered and honored. Today, I’m beyond proud to be an American and missing home. New York, thanks for being the best home I could have ever asked for and thank you for raising me. To all the families from my hometown who think of this day each year as the worst day of every year and a horrid reminder of what was taken from you 16 years ago, we are all here for you and we love you.
Now, I am proud when I go into the city and see One World Trade Center, as it reminds me how strong the people of this city and country are. Every inch of that 1,776 feet tall building represents pride, sincerity, solidarity, and strength; the building stares right at the hate that 16 years ago took so many lives and instead of seeing a daunting challenge, dares that hate to fuck with this country again. Because every single time this country is challenged or pushed to its breaking point, we push back and stand even taller and more together.
This sadness that I feel today will never go away; every year it will come back and arrest me, forcing tears down my face and thoughts of my hometown flooding back. But with that sadness and those tears comes a reassurance that I am from the greatest place on earth and that I live in the greatest country in this world.