To build a lasting dream
September 10, 2011
OPINION By DENNIS EAMON YOUNG
The city that never sleeps is having an anniversary. It is a terrible and yet hopeful time for all New Yorkers, wherever we may be.
We may have pursued our dreams to many other corners of the world, but this is where it all started. Some were born in this magic place, others borne to it on the wings of their dreams. We all love the city, even when we are angry at it and if someone hurts it, it hurts us as well. That is something we neither forget, nor forgive, especially on this anniversary.
Once there were the twin towers of the World Trade Centers standing at the tip of Manhattan. Ten years ago they were destroyed by a small group of people filled with unreasoning hate. Not a personal hatred based upon other human beings who had done them wrong, but a hatred of our system of living, working, governing and dreaming. Perversely, it was the very openness and freedom of our system, which helped them do that terrifying deed.
Thousands of people died that day. Not only Americans, but also citizens of over ninety nations died in those ruins. They had come to our city and made their home in order to pursue their dreams. Dreams cannot be so easily expunged. Others have taken up the mantle of these dreamers, planning, building and working towards a new vision of lower Manhattan, creating a thriving environment anew.
Many of these are survivors of loved ones lost in the demise of the towers. This is a work of love and passion, a cause of remembrance. Two man-made waterfalls will sit in the footprints of the original towers surrounded by bronze plaques emblazoned with the names of those lost on that day, as well as those killed in the prior attack on the towers. Other towers and a transportation hub are rising over an underground Hall of Remembrance.
A six-hour televised special called “The Rising” has documented the painful journey from ruin to re-visioning for the site. It is not an easy film to view, showing the stories of those left behind, grappling with the loss of fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, children and friends. It is inspiring however, to see the dedication involved in a unique and monumental task of encompassing all the myriad needs and desires of creating a complete environment of hope for the future.
Having a background as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force, I knew as I listened to early radio reports that day that we were going to lose some of those heroes and said as much to my younger daughter as I was driving her to work. It was appalling when the first tower came down. I cried then. By the time the second tower fell, I was numb.
Even after the passage of over thirty years, I felt as if I were AWOL from duty. I spoke with a firefighter friend in a local Connecticut fire station and he told me they all felt much the same, as only a handful had been able to help on that morning.
At that time the United States had a marvelous window of opportunity open to us. Most of the world felt in solidarity with us. We could have built upon that, but unfortunately we missed that chance in the months, then the years that followed.
It was a month before I was able to take a train down to the city and walk the area. I did indeed cry at that which had been done, as I began to take in the fuller extent of the tragedy. Trinity Church, being positioned as close to the towers as it was, should logically have also been destroyed, but somehow had been spared. The church had become part hospital and part social network. It was covered inside with pictures, posters and notes begging for information about loved ones.
A wide swath of streets surrounding the area looked more like a war zone than the center of a vibrant economic world hub. Streets, stores, cars, windows, all were covered with an insidious thick layer of dust. It was a flakey, grimy substance with a noxious odor that gave off a sense of danger all it’s own. I found it hard to believe that Christie Whitman of the E.P.A. and then Mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani, had declared the air around the site to be of no danger. That proclamation may have prevented panic, but has proven dangerous, even lethal in the interim to many of those first responders and volunteers working to rescue and clean up in the days, weeks and months following the attack.
On the tenth anniversary of this calamity, September 11, 2011, there will be a dedication ceremony at the site, showing the world our rebuilding progress. Even more important will be the opening of the area to the families and friends of those who were lost on that infamous day. It will provide a sanctum for us all to commune with those souls who never came home. I will, as will all New Yorkers everywhere, be there that day in spirit, looking forward to the time when I might be able to travel there in person.
May they all rest in peace.
Dennis Eamon Young was born and raised in Brooklyn. He was a firefighter, air crash specialist in the U.S. Air Force, went to schools in N.Y.C. for photography, becoming a fashion and advertising photographer and certified photo instructor. He now resides in Shell Beach, owns Dennis Eamon Young Photo and is President of SLO NightWriters. You can see some of his work at www.DennisEamonYoungPhoto.com.