Who we were on 9/11

Human Parts
Human Parts
Published in
3 min readSep 11, 2020

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Photo: owngarden/Getty Images

Anniversaries serve an important psychological purpose: They’re like checkpoints in time, reminders to pull over and remember the people we used to be. Nineteen years ago, some of us were in high school, watching the world burn on one of those bulky TVs the teacher would wheel in for movie day. Others weren’t watching through a screen at all — there were fewer back then, anyway — but through a window. A cloud of white ash. A cubicle in Manhattan, trying to make it through the workday just like everyone else.

“Every year, the anniversary is marked by something different, some other memory, a mix of sadness, nostalgia, loss, gratitude and hope that almost seems to define the word anniversary,” writes Alison Cupp Relyea in an essay chronicling every September 11 for the last 19 years — beginning with a quiet morning in an open-plan New York City office. One of those cool offices, a warehouse in Chelsea. Alison was small-talking with her colleagues over AOL Instant Messenger. Sipping a cup of coffee. Looking through giant south-facing windows at the bluest sky.

In an essay about being a 13-year-old New Yorker in 2001, Sarah Kay shares unforgettable images: Three cars piled on top of each other, “like some giant had stacked his Hot Wheels and gotten bored with them, smashed his hands down on top.” A line wrapping around itself in a grocery store several blocks from the World Trade Center. A black and white TV in her dad’s office.

“I understand that scars are not always visible; are often as quiet as a prolonged blink, a clenched fist,” Sarah writes. 2001 is not the same as 2020, but there are parallels: watching tragedy unfold on CNN, feeling guilty and grateful at the same time, trying to remain calm as the ground shifts underneath your feet.

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Human Parts
Human Parts

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