Good news: We survived

Brian Thornton

On Aug. 17, 2001, I carted the possessions from my 400 square foot Upper West Side studio down three stories in the freight elevator to the U-Haul truck that was waiting at the curb below.

Everyone knows what happened three weeks later on Sept. 11.

Just 24 days after I moved from Manhattan to Cleveland, the world watched in horror as terrorists created death, destruction and hysteria in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Five years have passed, and it’s easy for us to get caught up speculating the “what.” What if I had been in those towers? What if a loved one had been? What if our government had thwarted the attackers before they released their mayhem?

For myself, I’m able to answer one question: What if I hadn’t moved away from New York before that terrible day?

When I lived in the city, I was a structural engineer. Almost immediately after the attacks, the firm I worked for became part of the deconstruction team, and for weeks and months my friends and former colleagues worked round-the-clock shifts supervising the clean-up of Ground Zero.

Via e-mail, I read the horrific stories of the scenes they witnessed. The carnage of twisted metal, mountains of concrete and shattered glass. The filth covering every surface. Body parts in the streets.

If I hadn’t left, I’m certain their nightmares would have been my own.

I count my blessings that I didn’t witness first-hand the terror of Sept. 11. That I didn’t have to join my friends who worked in that massive grave. But still, the events of that day affected me. They affect all of us.

That Tuesday, 2,973 people lost their lives. Thousands more had a friend or family member taken from them. Millions of New Yorkers and Washingtonians stood in the streets and watched the flames and destruction.

Each of those survivors has reason to be traumatized. They faced emotions that are almost incomprehensible.

Except that, to a degree, every single one of us felt those emotions, too.

Try to remember what you were doing on Sept. 10, 2001. What was your mind-set? What was on the news? What were the most important issues facing the nation and the world?

I can’t answer any of those questions. I bet you can’t, either.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have been bombarded with a stream of news that should have broken our national psyche. Daily terror levels. Heightened terror alerts. Bombings in foreign cities. Thwarted plots. Multiple wars. Dead soldiers. Dead civilians.

I find it wondrous that we get out of bed each day. That we function, going about our business. That we did not shut down. That we are still able to care and love each other.

It is right that we remember today. That we thank the heroes of the terrible events. That we mourn those we lost. That we say a prayer for those still hurting.

But it is also right that we give ourselves credit – for although nearly all of us did not lose a friend or family member, although we did not stand in the chaos and witness fire and death – we have all been through a tremendous journey of pain, sadness, recovery and revival these past five years.

We have survived. It’s worth noting.

Brian Thornton is a journalism graduate student and Forum editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].