A Normal Day In New York City
It was a cold, normal day in March as I stood on the streets of New York City. I had been waiting in the bitter wind outside of the 9/11 Museum with my senior class, watching our sponsors who were bundled up against the brutal temperatures of the cold, much like the homeless in the city do daily. The sponsors had explained to us on the bus how important this part of the trip was and had urged us to be respectful of the property and people inside. Although I am normally not an emotional person, that day I could feel the tears stinging the walls of my chest.
As I entered the building, I was taken aback at how deceiving the outside structure was compared to the inside of the building. The inside was much more generous in space and for a class of our size, the large area was appreciated. The impatience and increasing volume of the voices in the hallway started to fill the void outside of the theatre we were about to enter. The theatre doors opened, and we took our seats in rows facing a medium-sized projector screen. The room was cold, and I was suddenly thankful for having my jacket on inside the building. The video started, and the whispers and faint voices faded away from the space as the people in the video started to speak. At that moment, my thick emotional shield faltered a bit at the sight of the footage and the words being spoken over it. When the presentation ended, my class and I silently filed out through a set of double doors and into the lobby once again. We waited quietly during the twenty minutes before we were given instructions to divide into groups of three or more in order to explore the museum.
My group and I started to walk through the introductory exhibits as we ventured deeper into the building. The temperature seemed to drop the farther I walked. It was as if the building knew what it was a reminder of and as a result, had grown cold from the sadness that it created. We walked in silence most of the way as we looked at the displays and the plaques that went with them. At first, we were touched, but not yet moved by the things we were seeing. Two pillars were standing in the middle of the room, and I remember the damage and the sad appearance they had. I could see the evidence of the debris that they had fought through on their hard, concrete skin. I remember seeing a small flight of stairs and seeing chunks missing from the original structure. The poor staircase looked like it could crumple at any moment, but still stood strong as a memorial of the people that they had led to safety on that day.
We reached the bottom floor, and at that moment it was just my friend, Miranda, and I who had made it into the square-shaped part that seemed to function as the heart of the museum. We walked together as we did not want to be caught without another member of our group, but at that very second, we did not seem to care about the consequences of our actions. Our attention was on the walls and the attractions in the center of the exhibit. The walls were filled with quotations and small phones to listen to the voice recordings that had been obtained to match the words on the walls. Frightening videos were playing on a loop just like a flashback might in one’s memory. The only sound audible was the shuffling of feet as people moved about the room and the small voices coming from the videos being shown.
We walked through the events of that day in chronological order as we ventured deeper into the exhibit. I let my tears finally fall when I reached the point of the timeline that showed the pictures and videos before the collapse of the South Tower. I held Miranda’s hand as we watched people in the photographs and video clippings jump from the tops of the broken buildings in hopes of surviving.
“That is terrible. We say that we want to jump off buildings and bridges all the time, and the fact that these people actually did that is heartbreaking,” she whispered in disbelief. All I could do was nod and keep watching in horror as dozens of people jumped and peered out of the open windows from at least 100 stories above the ground. It was shocking and almost unbearable to watch. Finally, I turned away from the graphic images and went about the rest of the path until we came out on the other side with tear-stained faces and softened hearts. The emotional walls that I had built before had crumpled like the architecture of the towers I had just seen.
I had heard about September 11th and had watched documentaries about it many times in class. All of those times I had felt sad and sorry for the people who had lost their lives in the tragedy of that day, but never had I cried over it or felt such strong feelings about it as I did then. I saw pieces of debris that had been salvaged and saved from the fallen buildings. I saw firetrucks and ambulances with whole halves missing where they had been too close to the towers when they had crumpled into a thick cloud of grey smoke. I saw the videos of the planes hitting the North and South Towers along with the Pentagon. I saw articles of clothing and papers that had not been lost to the flames. I heard the last words of passengers, flight attendants, employees, firefighters, and police officers. I saw the pictures of the 2,983 innocent lives ranging from the age of toddlers to the elderly that had been the victims of something so awful that the very mention of the date is enough for someone to sink into terrible memories and despair.
I came out of the museum sorrowful, livid, and changed. Experiencing the 9/11 Museum was something that I do not take for granted. Instead, I use it as a reminder that life is precious and all it takes is one second for it to be taken away. People boarded those planes in hopes of going on vacations, business trips, and an abundance of other reasons. Instead, they met their abrupt ends at the hands of evil. People had gone to work as if it were any normal day, and until 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, it had been just that.
In the museum, there is a wall with a quote that reads, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” and around it hangs 2,983 pieces of paper that were colored blue to demonstrate the colors of the sky that morning before it was covered in the dark abyss of black smoke. Before it all happened, the sky was just its typical, beautiful blue. There were no clouds or any sign of danger in the sky until the first plane hit the North Tower. It is the hard, tragic proof that something can literally go up in flames in a matter of seconds.
After my chest ached for the deaths and tragedy of the World Trade Center being hit not once, but twice by terrorist activity, my heart lit up with a glare of fury. I was angry. I was angry that someone out there in this world could make the decision to take the lives of so many men, women, and children. I remember standing there in the room with those 2,983 pictures of the victims and being so confused. Why did this happen? How could it happen? How could people be that inhumane and that awful to mass murder so many innocent beings? I did not have the answers, but I wanted them. I wanted them desperately!
The following hours after my anger had subsided, I started to think. I thought about the people on the planes and how many of them figured out that something was terribly wrong when they felt their aircraft turn around. I thought about the children who must have said, “Mommy, Daddy, what’s happening? Why are we going so fast?”, and the only thing the parent could do was hold their children tight as they told them they loved them. I thought about the people who stood in shock as they watched the planes crash and disappear behind a cloud of black death and orange flames. The tears that must have been shed and the shouts that must have been heard. How small they must have felt at that moment, wondering what was going on, and if what they were seeing was, indeed, happening right in front of them. I thought about the people who jumped from the buildings, knowing that they could very well die from the fall. The fact that people felt that their only option was to jump from the top of a building is horrifying. No person in his or her right mind would jump from something so high, but these people knew that if they stayed inside of the burning building, they would for sure be dead. They may die from the fall, but they have a better chance of surviving that than they would by staying inside. I thought of the families of those in the World Trade Center praying for a phone call, or any sign that their loved ones were alive and that they would be okay. I thought of the firefighters who walked up countless flights of stairs just to save more lives, knowing that structures could and eventually would collapse at any moment. I had so many thoughts running through my head, and my heart was so restless that I went the entire day thanking God that I was able to be alive. I looked over to each one of my classmates and thanked God that they were alive and were able to come on this trip. I thanked God that our flight from Dallas to Boston had been a safe one. I thanked Him for all of that and so much more when we left that place of sorrowful remembrance.
We live in a generation that moves too fast. We are constantly transitioning from one moment in time to the next, and sometimes, we find no minute to stop. We were only toddlers when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred. We went so many years knowing, but never fully comprehending the meaning behind that day. We forget that life is a fragile line that we walk along every day, never knowing when it will break. I will admit that I, too, am guilty of forgetting to count my blessings every morning when I wake up and every evening when I go to sleep. The day I visited the 9/11 Museum and Memorial and stood where there had once been smoke, debris, and devastation was a day that reminded me that I am a blessed human being to still be alive. We all are, and it is moments such as those that ground us in that reality.
Frannie Gilbertson is a frequent publisher to Adelaide Literary Magazine in all genres. “A Normal Day In New York City” is the piece of writing she is most proud of and was written in her first semester of college for a memoir assignment shortly after visiting New York City on her senior class trip. Of the many attractions she saw on that trip, the 9/11 Museum and Memorial had to be the most memorable. She is also a writer of adult romance novels self-published to Amazon in paperback and Ebook format. When not writing, she can be found reading, sleeping, and eating way too much Wing Stop.