The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. Gotham. The center of the universe and the capital of the world. New York has so many names it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Traveling to the city as a “country boy” is always a fun experience. I’ve been to NYC a few times before. I’ve seen a Yankees game, I’ve been to NYU. Part of me becomes a part of New York when I go there. I’ve gotten very familiar with the Subway system, the buses and the traffic. I’m even pretty good at making my way to and from JFK and LaGuardia.
This time was different though. For the first time I saw the “Freedom Tower.” This tower is being built in the World Trade Center twin towers location in Lower Manhattan. The entire area just has an eery presence to it. There’s so much history, so much anguish and so much loss still felt there. So many innocent souls lost, and all of them have their names inscribed on a new memorial. Those names are now nothing more than a memory to those who loved them. The memorial is next to the freedom tower.
When I was young—just months following 9/11—I sent President George W. Bush a letter. I was 11 years old at the time. I told him if the United States—not the land owner or the city of New York—did not rebuild the towers then “the terrorists will have won.” That’s all I remember from that letter, but I got one back. I don’t remember what it said, but I remember it had a signed photo of GWB standing with his wife, Laura, and it was signed.
Ten years later, I was standing on that awful space, the very place I thought I had lost my father. He was supposed to fly a trip that day—he’s a pilot for American Airlines. I remembered the television in my middle school P.E. class being turned on frantically, the teacher saying, “we need to watch the news!” Ten years later, the voices of those lost souls screamed so loudly it was almost unbearable.
It’s still hard to imagine all that happened that day. The lives of so many innocent people taken—the husbands, the wives, the children, parents, grandparents, friends and lovers.
It reminded me why I do what I do, why I tell the stories of others. It’s what I do best. I know of no better way to contribute to society than by telling the stories of someone who is struggling, succeeding, giving back or hurting. In this moment, it was reliving the experiences shared by countless others.
People may walk by this place unknowing what it means to the world. Some may be so used to seeing it everyday it’s a mere inconvenience to walk around. But to me, and to those whose lives were truly affected, this place will forever be a place of silence. In years to come it may return to being a bustling place of international commerce—or “World Trade”—but it will always be known as the “World Trade Center site” or “Ground Zero.”
This place. This time. These lives. Our lives. This is what we live for. To love, to laugh, to enjoy. It’s unforeseeable what will happen to us in the future. Maybe we’ll die in a car accident, or a skydiving crash. Maybe we’ll go down “like heroes in that Pennsylvania field.” Maybe we’ll die in our homes of natural causes.
It’s important to recognize the people in our lives. It’s important to recognize what they mean to you and how you grow. Let this serve as a reminder that this is our time—our time to shine, live and love.