Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New York, I Remember

Monica Surfaro Spigelman photoAs it was for all New Yorkers that day, my life changed on September 11. If you were downtown coming up from the subway at Union Square that morning (as Leigh was), you stood and stared incredulously at smoke in one tower, then stepped back, horrified the next minute, as you watched what looked like a big bird fly into the second tower.

If you were me you at first didn’t believe what you saw, then tried frantically to reach family, with cell phones unresponsive. When phones cleared in stages, I reached our son, away at college. I lied and reassured him that we were all OK, although I had a lump bigger than a tennis ball in my throat. I honestly did not know yet that Leigh and my brother Stephen were safe, but I would not tell Brett that. It would be hours before I connected with Leigh (and then Stephen by email).

With family safe, I thought I would feel relief. But it was anything but that. Weeks of disgust at the news and great fear began. The stink of smoke, false-alarms of new attacks and death all flung a curtain of chaos around my New York. We were alive, yes, but so many including a neighbor, a friend’s sister and many work associates were not. Our city was forever altered. What now?

It took a long time, but feelings of a new normal took the place of uneasiness. New York did survive. I was able to recall fun, good memories at the World Trade Center, like a Christmas up in Windows on the World Restaurant, with just Leigh, Brett and I staring out in awe at our great city. I was strengthened by amazing everyday heroes who stepped up in times of need all around us in New York. I'm not the only one who treasures a silent story of great courage, compassion and leadership from that time.

We didn’t make the decision to move to Tucson on September 11, 2001. But because of that day we turned to a new chapter in our lives. We said adios to successful careers because we knew they meant nothing if indeed you were too busy to enjoy life with those you love. We learned that we could do without some material things, in order to enjoy other, more immeasurable moments, like sunsets.

I photographed Leigh back in the early 1970s, with Manhattan and the World Trade Center in the background. At that age, newly married and out of college, we were free and oblivious to some dire twists and turns in the future. Evil can certainly smack you in the face around the next corner. But each of us, in our own way, has the ability to smack back with a bit of good. The smallest contribution of self in behalf of community has impact.

That’s the way I feel now as I keep New York close to my heart. I’ll never forget, but I now look ahead to a future of good, which we have the power to influence.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Very nice rememberence Monica. My father took my mom and I up to Windows of the World in 1999, we went for drinks and dancing. That was the only moment in my life that I felt very "Kansas". Everyone was dressed to the nines, but everyone was so kind and I even danced a little (much to my fathers chagrin). My parets and I had such a nice time there and we all cherish that memory.