Has it really been twelve years? I always hate this day as I’m sure millions of others do, because no matter where I am in the world I’m transported straight back to New York, being crammed into an office on Madison Avenue. It was day one of our year-long “life changing” internship when we were told two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers.
When it happened we were having breakfast at an underground café in Grand Central station. Something didn’t feel right. There was a lot of panic all of a sudden. We were ushered above ground and the first thing I remember was a girl covered by a sandwich board, handing out chewing gum samples. Only she wasn’t handing any out – she was just kind of standing there, spinning on the spot as everyone rushed past, like she was trying to figure out where to go and what to do.
The second thing I remember are the sirens. You hear sirens in New York all the time, but I’d never heard anything like these before. They were everywhere.
The night before, roughly sixty of us interns had flown in from the UK, and we’d been met at the airport by a big bus. We’d been chatting the whole way from London and were all knackered and jet-lagged. The lady at the front said something like “Welcome to New York, it’s about to be the best year of your life. As you can see, the World Trade Centre over there welcomes you, too!’
I was so tired, I didn’t even look up. I never saw that skyline again… at least, not with those two tall towers on it. The next morning they were gone.
Posters flapped, people sobbed into cellphones, every news channel blasted the same devastating images into our brains, making sure we’d never forget. Stories started pouring in; friends who were missing, family members who’d been saved, colleagues who were last seen running, or screaming, or falling. We were evicted from our hotel at midnight, had to run down thirty flights of stairs in our pajamas. They’d found a suspicious package in the Empire State Building close by. We ran in clouds of smoke and the stench of death through Times Square, thinking it was happening again. Turned out the wind had changed direction and was blowing dust from Ground Zero into midtown. Some people were so scared they jumped the subway barriers and went to Brooklyn in their pajamas.
I remember a few weeks after it happened, walking down 5th Avenue and everyone stopped what they were doing and started to clap. I think I was outside Tiffany’s. I turned around and saw two firetrucks making their way down the street. They were flat at the back, so we could see the firemen sitting on the edges dangling their legs down over the wheels and sides. The guys and the truck were grey. It was like seeing black and white images moving through a Technicolor movie. They were covered in dust from Ground Zero. We started clapping, too.
Twelve years has gone by so fast. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for New York, and for America in general… I always have but it’s something that’s only grown stronger. Who knows if it’s a little bit because of this? The friends I made during our year in New York are still some of my best and I’m lucky enough to be going to two of their weddings in the next few weeks. We were the lucky ones and I’m forever grateful that we met and had each other during that time.
New York has found the courage and strength within itself and its people, to carry on. And things like this teach us a lesson I think… to cherish every moment because you never know if it will be your last. To surround yourself with happy, positive people who make you smile, because life’s too short to be miserable all the time. To go out there and live your life, chase your dreams. Say sorry. Be quick to forgive even if you can’t forget. Tell people how you feel, when you feel it. If we are living and breathing and healthy, we are blessed. But sometimes, we all forget.
Let’s not forget! At least, not today. xxx