Strength from the Ruins

9/11 taught me that we, as a people, can survive hard things.

by Dulce Zamora

Friday, September 11, 2020 — Nineteen yeas ago, the unthinkable happened. That day, I lost trust in the world. Trust that we were safe. Trust that the social and physical structures of our society were durable. Trust that life would be okay again.

My apartment was a five-minute walk from the World Trade Center in New York. For 100 days, the collapsed towers continued to smolder, blanketing the neighborhood with smoke and ash. Storefronts and awnings looked like dusty shells of their former selves. Abandoned fire hoses still attached to hydrants littered the sidewalks. Signs of missing loved ones covered traffic light poles. People walked the streets in silence, mostly keeping their eyes down.

Shuttered windows mattered little in keeping out the devastation. The soot blemished windows and found its way into air ducts, discoloring furniture with gray film. I wore a face mask inside my home for weeks. Of course, the media did little to quell fears of another attack. In those days, anthrax packages and bomb threats dominated the news.

It seemed improbable I would ever free myself from the stain and stench of disaster and death. But I did. I rebuilt my trust in the world — one hour at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time. Then it became two years, three years, and then four. Now, in the 19th year anniversary of September 11, I think back at that dark time, and draw strength from it. And I’ve needed that strength in spades in 2020.

I will survive. I know you will, too.

It’s like this: When you go through something traumatic, you do what you can to survive. In 2001, I felt like it was all I could to stay above water. Then, I wrote a lot. I cried a lot. I saw a therapist. I volunteered to raise money for charity. I cried a lot more. I did some cycling. I read self-help books. I asked my friends and family for support. I cried some more, and I wrote some more — until one day, I felt strong enough to realize that I had learned to swim through the muck.

New York City recovered, too. Truckloads of debris, including disfigured metal beams were carted away, save for a few that are now on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum – a stark reminder of the day that killed 2,977 people. The twisted remnants are like scars marking deep wounds. The pain is so profound that it is etched into our collective being as humans.

Wreckage from the 2001 Terrorist Attacks in New York. From the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Yet, out of the ruins sprang new life. When I visited Lower Manhattan in the spring of 2019, I hardly recognized the neighborhood. Young greenery dotted the landscape. Fountains marked the footprints of the Twin Towers. Other skyscrapers emerged. The current One World Trade Center is actually the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. In the shadow of the tall buildings is the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and the Oculus, the new train station and mall to replace the old ones.

The New World Trade Center.

Once I learned how to navigate the darkness, my internal muscles knew what to do whenever life presented great challenges. This year has definitely tested my ability to cope. But I am still afloat, knowing this too will pass. I will survive. I know you will, too.

© 2020 Windswept Wildflower

From the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

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