we will never forget

This hasn’t been an easy week for me. Every year around September 11, I keep thinking that I’ll be able to function normally. It’s nine years later and…well, I’m just not entirely okay. Things do get better, but I know that I’ll always feel this way. Because we will never forget.

Keeping busy helps. This month has been crazy busy for me, the kind of busy where hours zip by and you’re like, “How is it 6:00 already? Wasn’t it just 1:30?!” Getting together with friends also helps. My friend David Levithan had a picnic on his birthday. It was one of those perfect summer nights where everyone wants to be outside. We were all supposed to bring something to eat or drink. This one guy brought a pineapple. As in, a whole pineapple. The pineapple sat on the picnic blanket, looking festive but I’m sure feeling less optimistic as the night progressed. When only a few of us were left, it was clear to the pineapple that he would remain intact. I asked the guy who brought the pineapple, “What were you…envisioning?” He said, “Someone with a serrated knife?” The funniest part was that, apparently, someone had been at the party with a serrated knife. Guess they didn’t see the pineapple.

The party was in a park near Ground Zero. As it got darker, I watched the Tribute in Light reaching way up into the sky. It was powerful to be there with the author of Love Is the Higher Law, which documented September 11 so accurately I kept forgetting I was reading fiction. You know how it feels like some books are speaking directly to you? David’s book was like that. He included all of the events and emotions that had the most impact on me. Those low-flying military planes in the following months that made me think, Here we go again, every time I heard one. Groups of Missing posters everywhere. Relentlessly listening to the radio, waiting for them to tell us something new. That smell in the air I’ll never forget. And my obsession with getting as close as possible to the Tribute in Light.

My friend Stephen and I were supposed to be at the top of one Tower on the evening of September 11, 2001. Time is the only thing that saved us that day. Stephen has visited almost every year since so we can walk down to Ground Zero. We just feel this need to recreate the walk we never took. And get close to the Tribute in Light. To us, the lights symbolize hope. Getting close to them is my way of keeping hope alive.

At first, the lights were positioned near the footprints of the Towers. From a distance, the Tribute looks like two towers of blue light. But each light tower is composed of about 40 individual light streams. This is what they looked like up close in 2004:

Tribute in Light at Ground Zero, 2004

Then the lights moved to a rooftop right near Ground Zero. There was no access to that roof, so we snuck up to the next roof to get close to them. Me with the lights in 2007:

Susane Colasanti at the Tribute in Light, 2007

After that, the lights were moved to a bridge a few blocks away. We were told that there was no way to get close to them. But of course that didn’t stop us (long story involving a parking garage, an elevator, and a friendly neighbor). This time, there were other people at the top in charge of the lights. They let us get closer than we’ve ever been, but only for a few seconds. It was incredible.

Tomorrow we’ll walk down again. We’ll get close to the lights. We’ll see how the rebuilding process is coming along. And, most importantly, we’ll remember.

Susane Colasanti, Stephen Venters, and the Tribute in Light, 2008

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16 thoughts on “we will never forget

  1. this blog gave me shivers. So many lives were lost on September 11th 2001. I was sitting in my forth grade classroom unaware of what was going on in the world until i got home from school. there is a reason why you didnt go to the towers that night and it wasn’t because they were gone by the time you got there, its because your time was not up and you are meant to write stories and share them with the world. No one deserves to die like the ones who died on September 11 just because they’re gone does not mean they won’t be remembered….

    • Thank you for this. I can relate to your experience…I was also teaching on September 11 and didn’t know what happened. It’s a good thing school security and communication have both improved since then. One of my students said that the Towers were gone and I didn’t believe her. I can’t believe I was ever that naive.

  2. Wow, that last picture is so bittersweet. And I can’t believe you were planning on being at the top that day! I wonder how many other people just narrowly missed that fate. But I’m so glad you’re here with us 🙂

    • Thank you ❤
      There were other stories like mine, about how someone was running late for work because they missed the subway or someone else was waiting in a long line for coffee. It’s just had such a profound impact on me.

  3. Very moving post. I’m in the UK and was 13, home sick from school the day of the attacks so saw all the news coverage. My 18th b’day present from my parents was a trip to NYC. My mom and I walked around Ground Zero and…I can’t explain the emotions that went through me. I’ve read several stories of those who should have been there and weren’t for whatever reason, and none of it makes sense. The lives lost or the ones saved, but I’m glad for those who were saved. Will never be forgotten. I can’t believe it’s been 9 years already.

    • I don’t think we’ve invented the word yet to describe those emotions you felt. It’s like this new way of being that didn’t exist before.
      The memorial is scheduled to open next year for the ten-year mark. I can’t believe it’s been that long, either.

  4. I got chills reading this post, too, and I’m not sure why. I still remember the day it happened: sitting in my fifth-grade classroom, my teacher becoming upset all of a sudden, everyone jumping out of their seats and crowding around the window to see what would happen to the Twin Towers. Until that day, I never even knew that I could see them from my school in Flushing. I don’t know. I guess it’s just hard to think that time has gone by so quickly. It’s kind of surreal that next year will mark 10 years since 9/11.
    That last image is beautiful.

  5. I was in kindergarden when 9/11 happened. It was all over the news and I remember patents bringing their kids home early and I didn’t know why. It was only Agee years later I figuired out what was going on that day. Last year I visited NYC and saw the spot of where the twin towers used to be. They’re building new buildings there is what our tour guide told us. It feels weird looking back at that day, seeing it all over the news and stuff, and even though no one I knew got hurt I heard so many stories about other peoples stories, and it sends me chills. I feel bad for the families and friends of all those people who died. *sends peace and love*

    • The rebuilding progress is really amazing. Memorial fountains are being constructed at the footprints of the towers and One World Trade (which used to be called the Freedom Tower) is now 40 stories high. There will also be a museum. So the whole area of Ground Zero will become a green space with lots of trees, the memorial fountains, and the museum. It’s all scheduled to open on 9.11.11. When I saw everything last night, I was really impressed with how far the rebuilding has come in the past year.

  6. It astounds me, the amount of stories I’ve heard from people who were supposed to be there on 9/11, but weren’t for some reason. It really moves me, but then I also wonder about all the people who did die, and why their lives had to end in that way. I guess there isn’t any way to explain it. I was in 10th grade in my civics class that day when there was an announcement over the loudspeaker about what had happened… I don’t really remember anything else until my next class, which was in a computer lab. We just watched the live news footage online, completely stunned. I can’t imagine what 9/11 must mean to you, as an American and a New Yorker. The world felt like such a different and safer place 9 years ago, but maybe its just that our eyes were opened in North America to what happens all the time (albeit on a lesser level) around the world. Anyway, this is getting rambly, so I’ll stop, but it really moves me to hear and read the experiences of New Yorkers from that day, so I wanted to comment. As others have said, I really adore that last image. To me, it completely embodies loss, but also hope in the midst of tragedy.

    • Thanks for sharing this. Yes, loss and hope. That day definitely changed me permanently. There are some things time just can’t heal. I’ll never get back the sense of peace I had right before. But keeping hope alive, hope that good really does prevail over evil, helps with the healing.

  7. Such powerful pictures. I’ve talked with you about your 9/11 story before, so let me comment on a sidelight of this post: You’re friends with David Levithan?! That’s awesome. I saw the Nick & Norah movie a couple years ago (god. so funny.) and just read the book a month ago. Of course it makes sense that he was personally affected by 9/11 like you were. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a New Yorker. Glad you guys could celebrate life, renewal, and gratitude in NYC.

    • One of the things I’m most thankful for is that I get to be friends with so many of my fave authors. David is amazing. He seriously has superpowers. He’s an author, an editor, a professor, and an organizer of big events. How does he do it all? I’m telling you, superpowers.
      I highly recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Not only is it an outstanding book, it has a twist that you won’t see coming (well, I didn’t see it coming at all!).

  8. I just visited your website. So cool! I love the notebook idea. I’m on the fence about firing up a website. I do have a blog, though.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Pingback: we will never forget | Susane Colasanti – Blog

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