Whenever I think of September 11th, 2001, I am – like everyone else – immediately transported back to that morning. Nick and I had recently moved to New York from Colorado, and our apartment was absolutely fantastic. With its two bedrooms and two baths, it was pricey by any standard other than those found around enormous metropolises, but man, did we get bang for our buck — parking, storage, hilarious and helpful old-school Italian landladies, a washer/dryer right in the apartment (those stacking miniatures that could hold three socks and a sweatshirt without overloading), and best of all, it was in a tremendous location thirty minutes from Manhattan in the heart of a darling little village right on the train tracks.
I do mean right on the train tracks. When a Metro-North train pulled into the station, we could be inside the apartment and still make it out the door, down the stairs, onto the platform, and into the train on time. This did mean that there were commuter trains going past our windows at nearly all hours of the day and night but really, it didn’t bother us. In fact, we scarcely even registered that they were there.
That Tuesday began like any other, except that Nick was preparing for a job fair so he was getting all gussied up. It was, of course, a picture-perfect September morning, topaz blue skies unblemished by clouds, warmish but not hot, the just-right segue from summer into fall. (It still strikes me as odd that I took stock of the weather at all. I can’t recall what the weather was on other important days, but I so vividly remember staring at the expanse of blue later in the afternoon that day and being dumbfounded that the world had fallen apart on such a beautiful day.)
We were going about our routine when my mom called around 9:00 – unusual for her, as she is truly a night owl – to ask if we’d heard the news that there was an accident and a plane had struck the World Trade Tower. In an attempt to save money, Nick and I didn’t have a television (and internet news wasn’t really happening yet), so we turned on the radio in an attempt to get more information. There was confusion – was it a small, personal plane? How had the pilot not seen the tower? – until the second plane hit, and then we all knew that this was no accident; something was terribly wrong.
Although we didn’t have a regular television, we did have a miniature one that fit right in your hand, so I pulled out its antenna as far as it would go until I was finally able to find – and keep – a televised broadcast of the unfolding attack. It was on that itty bitty set, no more than 3 inches across, that we watched the towers fall, disappearing into enormous gray clouds at the bottom of the screen.
I remember covering my mouth in shock and horror. I remember crying. I remember the desperation and frenzy as we attempted to make contact with the great number of people we knew who lived and worked in the City – including my father and stepfather – only to be met with maddening recordings informing us that all lines were busy. I remember the relief and hysteria upon finally hearing their voices, which was echoed by the relief and gratitude that we heard in the voices of our out-of-town friends and family who had been desperately trying to reach us to see if we were okay.
I remember the silence; for the first and only time during our tenure in that apartment, the trains stopped running.
Twenty five days later, Nick and I were married in a small, charming stone church thirty minutes from Manhattan. In the few weeks since the attacks, the United States had – understandably – discussed little else, and we had briefly considered marrying privately and celebrating more formally later. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with the big day as planned; it would be a shame to change things up so late in the game, we reasoned, but more importantly, we figured that we could really use a reason to celebrate.
That everyone came is the most humbling experience I’ve ever known. On one level, it’s always pretty amazing that people are willing to show up and support you. But this? This was different.
We all remember those This Can’t Be Happening weeks following September 11th – the omnipresent sense of uncertainty and fear that crept into every area of life, unfurling like fog in the night. We were on edge, tense, scared. For many of us, the mere thought of pursuing “normal” life was overwhelming; traveling – by plane – was inconceivable. And yet, that’s what our guests did. Very few of our friends and family lived locally. To get to us, they had to travel – a good 80% of them, nearly half by air. That they had the courage and strength to get on those airplanes and highways remains utterly awe-inspiring to me.
As for those who were local? Well, these were the folks who lived and worked in Manhattan, the ones who could smell the still-smoldering ruins from their apartments, the ones whose vistas were now missing two anchors, the ones with apartments on the train lines like us, the ones who were surrounded, every minute of the day, by the aftermath of the attacks.
So, yeah. Our wedding guests pretty much kicked ass.
We didn’t talk about September 11th during the wedding, deciding instead to focus on why everyone had so generously come together, but we didn’t have to. It was everywhere – the faces of the people we had lost or who were still missing, the news “crawl” that began on CNN, the feeling that nothing would be quite the same again. But at the wedding, there was joy. There was music (lots and lots of music). There was laughter. There was seriously delicious food and seriously raucous dancing.
Maybe it was because we’d all been followed around by clouds for the past twenty-five days, but we were here and it was fun and we were celebrating and there was singing and eating and alcohol and holy crap did everyone let go and have a freakin’ blast.
The most poignant moment of the night didn’t come during the ceremony, however, nor during any of the letting-loose afterward. Instead, it was a surprise moment that perfectly honored the somber-but-celebratory mood, forever linking our wedding with September 11th in the most wonderful way possible.
Given the musical theme running through the wedding, Nick and I had informed our guests that we would not kiss if glasses were clinked but rather when an entire table stood up and – in unison – sang a song containing the word “love.” It didn’t take long for people to get into the spirit of things and we found ourselves serenaded by the likes of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” – all cute, all light, all sweet.
By several hours in, one of the few tables not yet to stand was the one at which my grandparents were seated. This was reasonable, perhaps even expected – requesting octogenarian participation was maybe reaching a bit. But then my grandfather stood and, in his booming voice, began to sing “God Bless America”.
God bless America
Land that I love
Within a few words, his table had joined in. Within a line, the entire room sang together. By the end, everyone was standing, hands on hearts, as the band accompanied us. It was, quite simply, one of the most moving and beautiful things I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of.
No other tables stood after that.
When we decided to go ahead with the wedding, I knew that it would be somehow joined with September 11th. I never anticipated that one of my strongest memories of one of our country’s darkest days would come from our wedding reception, nor that it would be so lovely.
Despite our collective haze and shock, there was something special about the place we found ourselves immediately post-9/11, something connecting and almost comforting. While I certainly wouldn’t wish for another terrorist attack to bring us all together, there are times when I wish we still could feel that camaraderie, unity, and collective determination to rise, rebuild, and heal.
I will never forget, but I will also always remember. I will remember the sky and the silence, the “Missing” posters and the fighter jets overhead. I will remember the way so many people joined together, at Ground Zero, at makeshift triages, across bridges and over dinner. I will remember those incredible family members and friends who chose strength over fear, joy over sadness. I will remember the hope we shared, the laughter, the hugs.
I will remember the singing.
I will remember the love.