September 11th, 2001 began like any other day as I hurried about the bank tending to customers' needs. “May I help you,” I asked each new customer who came in, forgetting that there was a world outside the branch. Then the doors swung open and a somber-faced policeman entered to tell us that the world had changed forever.

I’ll never forget that morning or how still everyone inside the bank became as we stared at the officer’s uncharacteristically stony expression. “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said, his voice soft, eyes empty.

“Was there an accident,” Mike, my bank manager asked.

The officer shook his head slowly, and the customers in line just looked from one to another, confused, trying to make sense of it.

My manager brought the television out of the break room and turned it on as we all forgot about our work, transfixed by the images we saw flickering across the small screen.

My heart sank as I watched smoke billow high into the sky after the first plane had crashed. Years before, I had lived in New York City and I remembered days spent walking around Wall Street, or taking the elevator up to Windows on the World with friends for special dinners.

I thought about the view I had as I looked out my window in Brooklyn Heights, staring across the Hudson at the two towers that became like old friends, and the days I oftentimes spent wondering what people were doing behind the glass windows of those twin spires that seemed to reach all the way to heaven.

When the second plane crashed moments later, my heart stopped. Reporters were still trying to make sense of the chaos, but it was obviously an intentional strike against the United States, but how or why had yet to be determined.

I had friends that worked in those buildings, others that visited the site regularly. Still countless other loved ones lived in New York City, and I wondered if they were going to be able to reach safety, or if there was even a safe haven still available.

After the World Trade Center attack

We all watched, helpless, as people leapt to their death, the images indelibly burned into our brains. We wondered if it could all get any worse.

A half hour later another plane had crashed at the Pentagon, and regardless of our beliefs or lack thereof, I think everyone around me prayed that the nightmare would come to an end, that nothing more would happen.

Then the most bone chilling event of all occurred as the South Tower just disintegrated, falling to the ground like a deck of cards.

My knees buckled as I gripped the counter I’d been standing beside. I had to sit down. My eyes burned with tears and I couldn’t even begin to understand what type of insanity I was watching. I glanced around the room. Customers held their faces, their jaws slack. One woman held a handkerchief to her face, dabbing at the tears that fell down her creased cheeks.

I tried to call my friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but there was no getting through.

When the North Tower came down, I wondered if I’d ever be able to visit New York, one of my absolutely favorite cities, ever again. Would it even be there? God only knew what other travesties were going to ensue.

In the days that followed, I learned that one of my best friends lost her sister that day. Others I knew lost their life partners, some their coworkers.

One man I met said his wife had gone to New York for a business meeting the day before, and she never returned. The last time he’d heard from her she’d called him and asked him to wish her luck before her meeting. Ten minutes later the first plane had crashed into the North Tower.

America was in pain, wounded to the core, and it was questionable whether any of us would ever heal from the gaping wound the terror attack tore into the flesh of the nation.

It was four years before I’d visit Manhattan after that day. When we arrived in the financial district, the skyline looked hollow because the towers weren’t where I’d left them years before. A huge banner hung on the side of one building, urging us to always remember. Who could forget? I knew it would never be possible.

Aerial view of Ground Zero

As I approached the fence surrounding the gaping hole where the twin towers once stood, I gazed down into the earth in quiet mourning. So many good memories had been tied to those buildings, not just for me but for almost everyone in New York.

I remembered laughing as I’d taken late night subway rides home through the tunnels beneath the towers, or the times I’d shared a quick lunch with a friend in the mall downstairs. I recalled waiting in line to purchase tickets to some of my favorite Broadway shows in the TKTS booth or having an elegant dinner at the top, watching the lights dance across the city below.

It pained my heart to think about those moments as I stared into the cavity that had been cut into the earth, trying to block out the almost audible screams of terror that threatened to assault my ears as they echoed across time.

Now, eleven years later, the wounds of that day have closed, leaving behind scars to remind us of days before TSA checkpoints, when we didn’t watch our fellow travelers with suspicion or have to worry every time we took a flight whether or not someone was on board who intended to turn our plane into a bomb.

The only comfort we can draw from those darkest of days is what occurred in the aftermath of such horror. America drew together unlike anything I had ever seen. New Yorkers were friendlier. People remembered their mortality, and the world looked on and offered their support to those in need.

Moments marked by such extreme anguish always remind us of our humanity, of our need for one another, and of what is truly important. As we all pause today and remember the loved ones we lost, I hope we can also recall the beauty we discovered when we uplifted our fellow man, and continue doing so every opportunity we get.

Always remember.

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