8 years is a long time, and yet not so long.
8 years since a cool, clear, sunny day in New York City changed every one's lives forever.
For 2,751 people, it was the end of their lives, a fact they would not have contemplated that day.
For hundreds of thousands more, perhaps millions, like myself, we were witness to their death in one fashion or another, and were unprepared for what we saw.
For tens, nay hundreds of millions of people, it was the end of their cherished naiveté and the disruption of their cocoon of ignorance. The world, which was "out there," was suddenly here, on our soil, in our face.
There was death -- raw and uncleansed -- on our television screens.
There was destruction, of a type Hollywood could never have envisioned.
There were emotions on a scale undreamed -- incredulity, sorrow, fear, bravery, helplessness.
And there was loss. Loss of life. Loss of innocence. Loss of hope.
8 years on, and the day is no easier to process for me now, than it was then, and I was in midtown Manhattan, not at the epicenter of the disaster. It was not I, running through the streets, covered in dust, trying to outrun falling debris. It was not I, clambering down endless flights of stairs, in the dark, choking on smoke, trying to get out into the light of day. It was not I, charging into the chaos, attempting to quell the inferno and rescue the wounded. It was not I, standing over the smoking remains, desperate to find survivors.
For me, it was a day indelibly etched on my conscious mind, so clear now, that to close my eyes and focus, brings it back to sharp relief. Television screens in offices, showing the burning towers, then the collapsing towers. Rows of empty cubicles. The first moments, when word spread like wildfire of the first plane's impact. The dread at the impact of the second plane. Being told that a bomb threat had been called into my building, but not leaving because there was really nowhere to go. Looking between two buildings at the far distant towers, wreathed in their funeral pyres, then hearing a TV anchor claim one was collapsing, and looking back to see it gone. Sparrows, normally drowned out by traffic, chirping in empty streets, so loud as to be unbelievable. Standing in an endless line, waiting to board a boat. Riding a Corps of Engineers river dredge across the Hudson, and seeing the column of smoke rising high above the city. A little girl in a stroller, with her mother, standing next to me. A crowded bus, taking us to the trains. Stopping at the liquor store on my way home, to an apartment I had only been in for ten days after separating from my wife. No long distance service, forcing me to call my parents with a calling card. Restless sleep.
I cannot forget. The pain may ease, but the memory must not weaken. This day was a seminal moment in the life of a country which thought itself invincible and invulnerable, which let foolish pride take the place of measured paranoia. For now, the pendulum has swung and we live in a country gripped by forces that would have us surrender our dignity, our morality, and our rights, to fight an ephemeral enemy, one that lurks in shadow, and knows how to stay hidden from view. As years pass, hopefully this will soften, for if it does not, we stand to work ourselves into another disaster of epic proportions: the destruction of American society.
So on this day, let us not forget the innocent lives lost, the bravery of many who tried to save lives, and the despicable acts that brought us together as a nation that day. Let us honor them in our own way, and let us take from this the hope for peace.