As I walked toward Turlock Fire Department Station 1 this morning, the sound of bag pipes playing took me away to another time and place. Not to 10 years ago, but to April of 2004. That’s the last time I visited ground zero. Standing there saying goodbye was emotional. I knew I would never visit ground zero again. Even if possible to visit in the future, I pictured the empty pit replaced with beauty and symbolism. Ground zero as I remember it was very raw, deep and sad. No pretty trees; no pretty monuments or fancy new buildings.
My husband Antoine and I were both students in New York. He was in Dental school and I was getting my Montessori certification. We knew we would be there for four years and then come back to California.
Never did we expect to have a part of history link us to New York like this. But on a simple September 11th morning he woke up to get ready for school. It was a day that along with his classmates he was assigned to visit the elementary school near the twin towers. There they would pass out free toothbrushes and assist children with dental needs.
The first airplane hit as he was in the shower getting ready. We thought it was a tragic accident. Minutes later as the second airplane hit we realized that this was by far worse. It was an attack. In shock Antoine did what he always did. He went to school. That day medical and dental students were asked to go and assist in removing bodies from the rubble. On that day we were no longer just students living in New York. We were transformed into New Yorkers.
For weeks America watched the towers get hit and then fall on TV. But what we saw was completely different. We saw the aftermath. We saw the streets of Manhattan empty. No cars, no cabs, and food was running out in the stores. People were allowed to leave the city but no one was allowed in. In an otherwise cold city like Manhattan where people do not make eye contact, they do not smile and say hello to the person crossing the streets looting would be expected. But Manhattan lost its buzz, it lost its edge and all you saw was sadness and love.
Out of all of this chaos in downtown, the rest of the city moved at a slower pace. The community all stopped to look at each other. We stopped to give hope and show that we are all one. Words were not needed but the simple act of eye contact and a small nod let the other person know that now we grieve as one. We were all united. Streets of New York were filled with pictures of loved ones lost in the attack. Family members still had hopes of finding them alive. New York City changed.
It didn’t take long for our community to stop feeling sorry. Yes we were very sad, but now we had united and our sorrow turned into hope. Time flew by so fast after that. Every year as the anniversary approached, I and all other New Yorkers went back to that moment; the day that our lives had changed.
In the summer of 2004 my husband and I chose Turlock to relocate to after completing our 4 year journey. Today, as a Turlock resident, I stood at Turlock Fire Department Station 1 and listened to the bag pipes, the bugle and the speeches given. I was a proud Assyrian American. I can’t imagine how New Yorkers feel right now as they stand at the monument and remember 10 years ago. But I know that what I saw and what I felt will always be with me. It won’t change and it won’t fade.
God bless our country and those who risk their lives defending it.