You hear people say it, or read it on bumper stickers. I can’t imagine how anyone would.
I flew into NYC in October 2001 from Korea. The plane was almost empty. Immigration was quiet, people were subdued, officers were helpful, even nice. When I made my way out of the subway in Manhattan I automatically looked up, searching for the twin towers that indicated my orientation for so many years. The sky was clear, I was confused. Then I smelled it. As I made my way across town, the smell was pervasive, melting metal, or plastic, or what was it exactly… foreign. I walked along the street, plywood construction sites covered with Xerox print outs of missing….missing everyone. At this point, the fate of those in the photos had most likely been determined, but they remained, holding vigil, singular identities representing families who were beyond horrified. Block after block, hundreds and hundreds of photos… it was so shocking, so intense, so beyond explanation.
On September 11, 2001, I was at the airport in San Diego. The towers were struck, I was sent home. I cried in front of my TV as they fell. My (now) husband was on a flight to Hong Kong. I went into the office, cried with co-workers, talked on the phone, cried with friends, talked to neighbors I had never met before, as we all tried to make sense, figure out, what was happening exactly, or what was going to happen next.
The thing I noticed as I traveled over the weeks following 9/11, to Canada, to Korea, and finally to New York, was how gentle everyone was with each other. Everyone. From Airport Security, NYPD officers, taxi drivers, to the woman in the check out line at Dwayne Reade. People were kind. Their eyes were searching, “are you okay?” “am I okay?” “are we going to be okay?”
The horror of that day, and the continued terror and horror of the days that followed, I feel, would be impossible for anyone to forget. Needing to turn on the TV every morning to see if anything else un-imaginable had happened during the night…
However, the feeling , that feeling of, we are all human after all, we are all in this together, let’s help each other, be gentle with each other, give each other some space, some room, for feeling, for processing. When I read those bumper stickers, “never forget” my hope is to “never forget” that compassion, that gentleness, that “hey, we all just went through something really big, it’s okay” feeling we had in those following weeks and months.
And to “never forget” to be kind to each other.