When I was a kid, I watched the World Trade Center in New York City being built. I could see it from my Queens rooftop. Armed with a pair of good binoculars, I could catch all the action, and it amazed me to see those two glass and steel marvels rising against the sky.
Of course, the World Trade Center's birth came from a death of the neighborhood that was annihilated when it was built. I do not recall the area because I was too young (ground was broken for the buildings in 1966), but my father well remembers that streets were shut down and over a hundred buildings demolished to make room for the 16-acre site. He even recalls buying a watch in one of the stores that were leveled. Shops, businesses, and apartments were eliminated to accommodate the massive project. The death of a little neighborhood in the big city occurred in order to spawn a complex with the largest buildings in the world (at least for a short time until Sears Tower in Chicago opened in 1974).
The World Trade Center rose in my childhood and dominated my thinking about the city I loved as I became a man. While I had been to the top of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, nothing seemed to compare to visiting the Twin Towers or "the Trades" as some people called them. Being in my nascent photographer stage, I took all sorts of pictures of the Twin Towers once they were completed. Sadly, like the buildings captured in those shots, those photographs no longer exist.
The two iconic towers could be seen from almost anywhere in this town, and they immediately became the recognizable symbol of New York City all over the world. Tourists flocked to visit the observatory, take pictures of the cityscape that flowed all around it, and dine in the premier restaurant Windows on the World. After visiting the top of one of the buildings, there was a feeling that you had touched, if not heaven, the closest thing to it in the sky.
I, like so many New Yorkers and citizens of this nation and the world, was left devastated by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Arguably, it seemed that no city had ever been so irreparably altered by an act of war as had New York on that day. While a few loons danced in the streets to celebrate in foreign lands, most human beings on the planet saw this as a terrible blow to not just New York but to civilization as we know it.
Indeed, the World Trade Center had not just been a symbol but a place where people of all nationalities worked and unfortunately many died. I lost a family member that day and two childhood friends, and the loss changed my life forever, as it did the lives of so many others. I was inspired to write a book of fiction in reaction to what happened, and it took me almost a year to even attempt to write it, and then another two and a half years to complete it. I took no pleasure in writing those words, but they ended up being therapeutic for me, and the book stands as something that came out of the horror of that seemingly beautiful Tuesday in September that morphed into the worst day in the lives of so many people.
Almost nine years later there is great noise and activity at the site as it seems that work is truly ongoing to build a new symbol of New York out of the ashes. One does not even have to go there to get an idea of the progress; a live video feed is provided by the Port Authority of New York for anyone to see what is happening there.
If you come to New York City, take the E train to the World Trade Center stop. When I ride the subway today, I cannot believe it is the same train system that I used to ride years ago. It is clean, relatively efficient, and free of graffiti that at one time covered the walls of every car on every line. Tourists who come here for the first time must be impressed by the condition of the subways these days and, quite frankly, so am I.
Once you come up the steps and walk toward the construction site, your view will be mostly blocked by a fence that has been covered with material to keep out prying eyes. If you look above the fence toward the skyline, you can see all manner of construction cranes and hear all the grinding, drilling, and pounding that tells you work is being done.
As I stood there on the corner of Vesey and West Streets, looking at the scene, I couldn't help but tip my head back and remember those majestic towers pressing up against the sky. At that moment a soft rain began to fall, and it seemed fitting that the clouds came rolling in off the Hudson River and cast an ominous shadow on the apparent progress happening below.
I walked away from the scene thinking about my son: his New York City will be one with the Freedom Tower dominating the skyline. He will hear the story about the watch his grandfather bought long ago in a store that had to be bulldozed to make room for the first World Trade Center towers. He will be told about his father standing on a black tar roof and watching with binoculars as the buildings rose toward the sky, and he will learn about 9/11 from his family and in school.
But he will never know what it was like to stand on the street and look up at the Twin Towers, just as I will never know what it was like to walk into a Mom and Pop electronics store and buy a watch in a place that one day would be Ground Zero, a place where time almost stood still for New Yorkers on 9/11.
No, his reality will only include a bright and shining beacon of hope and prosperity: the Freedom Tower. He will visit the 9/11 Memorial, perhaps read his Uncle Steve's name on a wall, and he will walk out into the sunshine and stare up at a skyscraper like I once did and think about heaven.
My wish for him and all our sons and daughters is that they will never forget 9/11 but be able to embrace a future where nothing like it will ever happen again.