This day, fifteen years ago, is one of those days that everyone can tell you where they were and what they were doing at the very moment they heard the news.
For me, I was three months into my first job after college. I was sitting at a reception desk in the Neurology clinic on the 18th floor of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s main hospital on East 68th Street and York Avenue. Our nurse practitioner opened the waiting room door to tell us that a plane had hit one of the towers. Initially, we thought, “what kind of plane is that stupid?” We then put the news up on our computer screens just as the second tower was hit. My mind went to a close family friend who I had recently met for lunch. I met him where he worked at The World Trade Center. Though I would often take the PATH from Jersey City to WTC to make subway connections, I never quite understood all of the buildings that made up WTC. But I knew I met Michael under the #2 sign, and that’s when I realized, “Oh my god, he’s in that tower.” I immediately picked up the phone and dialed his house line (because people had house lines at that time). After several rings, he picked up. He had overslept and was just learning about what was happening at his place of work. I let out a sigh of relief. A sigh that so many hundreds and thousands of people never got to do that day.
I stayed at work the whole day. We were asked to standby in the event that we got any overflow from the hospitals further downtown. We didn’t but we still stayed at work. Nobody really talked. We just kind of walked around or sat there, silent, maybe trying to make sense of something that was so senseless. It was nearly impossible to get back to NJ, where I was living, so I made arrangements to stay with Michael's family in Queens. I walked over the 59th Street bridge after work, looking seven miles south at the gaping hole that now existed in our skyline, as I crossed over. I remember writing in my journal that night, which I happened to have with me, and making a note that I knew this is a moment in our lifetime that everything would be forever changed.
I went to work the next day, and the day after that. In the days and weeks after 9/11, it felt like everyone walking through the city streets were zombies – existing and trying to continue a normal routine, but not even knowing how to live anymore. I would transfer to the subway at Union Square and would be brought to tears at posters on top of posters of “Missing” signs – mothers, fathers, daughters, sons – that we all knew were not missing, but were gone. It was such a weird time. Once enough time had passed for people to heal just enough to start living a somewhat normal life, I think there was this revelation: life is short. How many people hopped on a flight or just walked into work on a beautiful Tuesday morning, not knowing that it would be their last day?
It always feels strange to not be close to NYC on this date. Today, being in Nashville in this traveling mode, I hardly remembered that it was in fact, the 15th anniversary. I started my day meeting up with a friend who I had worked with at NYU a decade ago. We had also traveled to Southeast Asia together with another co-worker right before I left the job. It’s been years since I’ve seen Michelle and I was so happy she reached out to let me know she was now living in Nashville. We sat for brunch and talked, and it seemed like no time had passed. Yet, Michelle is married with two children and well, when I think about it – so much has changed in both of our lives since we last saw each other. It’s fascinating – how time works.
After brunch, I took a little walk (note: Nashville is not as walkable as Portland) and ended up finding my way to the visitor center to book a little trolley to see The Parthenon. I was so excited to see this structure, remembering how much I loved Art History class way back in high school. Aside from seeing this near-replica, it was really cool to just get a sense of what the people who live here – those walking their dogs through Centennial Park – were like. I eventually made my way to one of the barbecue spots that had been recommended to me. As I waited for my food at the bar, I started talking to a guy next to me who had flown into Nashville from Texas just to see the football game that afternoon. He works for an airline and… why have I never worked for an airline!? Anyway, after my turkey sandwich and a visit to the pit room, we started talking again and decided to take a stroll to Broadway. We ended up making our way from one bar to the next over the course of the next twelve hours or so, enjoying live music in a search for two-step and spots that allowed backpacks and ended by walking over the pedestrian bridge to see the lights over the Cumberland River. It was a platonic day-into-evening and it felt like I had known him forever – talking about family, astrology, work relationships and relationships that work. It’s so interesting to me when you realize things in real life that you know theoretically – like I know there are millions of people living in the US but when you have the opportunity to actually go out there and meet different people, those living different kinds of lives in different places, you realize just how easy it is to connect and just how much we really are the same, at our core.
Once all the bars shut down, I headed into my Lyft to my AirBnb and he into one heading to his flight home, and I thought again – time is fascinating. Let’s just say there wasn’t this finite amount of time for us to hang out together, would I have been as open to the idea of hanging out with essentially a stranger for half of a day? Yes, I know that life is short. But when I'm in the day-to-day of my life, it’s really easy to forget that reality. Yet, when in a situation like today – where you only have until 3AM because that’s when someone needs to leave for the airport – you think, why not take advantage of the little time we have?
Why is it so hard to apply that every day in life?
“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current. No sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”
~ Marcus Aurelius
“I want to do everything. That’s my problem. Life is short, and I hate the idea of turning down anything. You never know what interesting experience might happen.”
~ Joshua Bell
“The trouble is, you think you have time.”
About the photo: bridge lights reflecting on the Cumberland River.