Wednesday, September 7, 2016

9.11: A View Through Books, A Survivor, A Mourner, & The 9.11 Museum

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As the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001 approaches, I visited the recently opened 9.11 Museum.  It is an excellent tribute to those who lost their lives, made sacrifices, or witnessed the horrific events of that most shocking day that America was attacked and a new era was ushered in. The Terrorism Era is one that as of yet doesn’t have an end date to neatly wrap it up the way other wars, revolts, protests, or conflicts have.  With no end in sight, that is what makes this time period, one filled with anxiety and cost overruns for security, such a challenging one.  Regardless of what happens moving forward and however this sad, ugly era of fear and anger concludes, the moments of 9.11 are significant and still haunting to this day.

I didn’t lose anyone that fateful day, but I lost a city and a nation.  Things have not been the same since then.  It is one of those rare before and after moments that come to define our history and a generation.

The 9.11 Museum is a rare site.  It’s a public location that allows us to not only remember, honor, even educate – but to feel.  It’s a place we can just cry freely, tears flowing down our cheeks as easily as melted ice cream smears the face of a child on a hot summer day.  It’s a place you should expect to water up in.

The museum is well done.  I spent two and half hours and didn’t see everything, didn’t read every placard.  It becomes overwhelming.  But it was what I needed.

I went on September 2nd – the three-month anniversary of the passing of my dad.  He used to work in the World Financial Center.  He was across the street from the Twin Towers ever since they were erected – until he retired in 1990.  I thought of him as I visited the museum, as if I was able to use the public mourning for one event to also shed tears for my unrelated, private loss.

I made friends with a man over a decade ago, Adam Mayblum, who told me he was in one of the towers before they collapsed.  He he was on the 87th floor.  He was one of the lucky thousands who made it out of there alive.    I can’t imagine what it’s like to own that survivor’s tale for the rest of his life, but he’s managed not to let it define him.  He raises a family and has a career and goes on living his life. Still, it's something he will never forget. and he doesn't want our new generation to not know what happened that day.

"I do worry that while for our generation it is an event that we will never forget, for the younger gen X’ers, they were too young for it to seriously register," says Mayblum. "The story needs to be kept fresh for them lest history repeat itself, so to that end, weall need to spread the story of 9.11. If you want to hear his poignant, moment by moment account of how he narrowly escaped terror in the towers, read his fresh Huffington Post piece:
Some people struggle to go on, as they mourn the loved ones lost to this terrible tragedy.

One of them is Jean Colaio. She wrote a book, That Day:  My Story of September 11th, that’s sold in the museum’s gift shop.  She lost her two brothers on 9.11.  Here are two passages from her book:

Passage One:
"It comes to me so vividly at times, even though I’ve tried to discard that day from my memory.  They say flashbacks are what soldiers experience when they come home from war.  Well, I declare September 11th to be a day of war – a war on innocents who had been conducting their daily lives in the financial hub of the world.  On that day, who would have thought it would be their last?  How could it have happened, really?  Men, women, mothers, fathers, sons, sisters – and in my case, two brothers – perished on the same day.  This is hard to imagine; all these victims had been so unaware.  Pick up a bagel, a cup of coffee, and take your last elevator trip up to the 104th floor of the World Trade Center Tower.

"I try not to think of my brothers in the office on that day. That’s a very dark place for me.  There’s footage of people gasping for air, or jumping.  Every picture looks as if it could be of my brothers…dying.  Imagine, there are pictures of people taking their last breaths – for the world to see.  How can this even be?  There are so many stories from that day, but I need to put mine into words.  This event was so public; everyone shared this tragedy with my family and me that day.  That day…the worst of my life."

"And there it was, at precisely 10:28am, the loudest noise, almost like a volcanic eruption, the crashing of the tower, my brothers’ tower.

"My brothers’ building was coming down.  Everyone – and I mean everyone – who was walking fast or running now stopped in his or her tracks.  In one moment we collectively turned our bodies south toward the tower and watched it fall down.  Slowly, slowly, it was crumbling.  It came down almost in an organized fashion and in eerie slow motion.  I watched as the tower – and my life as I knew it – came crumbling down.  People gasped in horror.

"Watching and knowing that Mark and Stephen and all their coworkers were in the tower was unbearable.  I think my heart stopped beating; life stopped."

The gift shop, which has been controversial because it commercializes a horrific event on top of what’s essentially sacred ground.  But the gift shop does raise funds for the museum and it features dozens of books for all ages and from all perspectives.  It’s important that our history be preserved and shared, and what better way to do this than from books.

There are coffee table books, filled with photography, showcasing things like how the towers were built, how they were destroyed, the courage of first-responders, the usefulness of dogs to the recovery mission, and how America paid tribute to all that it had lost – and found that day.  There are children’s books like My Little Red Fire Truck, there’s the 911 Commission Report, a kid’s book called The Little Chapel That Stood and, one that honors people, Faces of Ground Zero:  Portraits of The Heroes of September 11, 2001.

I remember 9.11 like it was yesterday, and yet it seems like a long time ago.  I remember feeling fear, unease, confusion, and uncertainty.  It became obvious we were under attack, but by whom and why?  What else did this mysterious, unidentified, group have planned for us?  How do we fight shadows?

Early news reports ranged wildly as to how many might be dead.  They spoke of 10-20,000 possibly being gone.  When the final tally came in of about 3,000 it was shocking and disturbing.

There were posters that went up immediately, saying “Missing,” accompanied with a name, photo, and phone number, the kind you see when someone’s dog is lost.  We all knew from day one that these missing posters that littered Union Square (14 Street), were really tributes to the dead. They collectively, made up the first memorial and tribute to those we lost.  For days no one had access to the city below 14th Street.  We were cut off from a smoldering inferno from a war zone, and a place that transitioned quickly from rescue to a recovery mission.

The economy and Wall Street crashed immediately.  Plans for attacking Afghanistan were already being drawn up.  Airport Security rules would come from this that would lead to a whole new way of flying.  The media had around-the-clock coverage of this immense disaster.  No one could believe their eyes as they repeatedly saw footage of airplane hitting a tower, then another, again and again. 

Reports – and footage – of people jumping off of these burning buildings to their death – further tore at us.  As one survivor story after another flooded us, we didn’t know where to turn for escape.  Baseball games were suspended.  Late night shows with their usual celebrity guests were on hold.  School was canceled.  Offices shut down.  People were in shock, fear, and pain.  Everything was being questioned from every aspect of life.  People didn’t know when they could resume living – or what that life would look like.

But the museum, though it did an excellent job of capturing the events of 9.11, it also helped us feel., the pioneering spirit of when construction broke on August 5, 1966, to begin building these historical marvels.  A project of that size had never taken place in America - or the world - at that time.

The museum also showed how the new Freedom Tower was built and in the process, rebuilt the spirit of America.  Instead of seeing a hole in the ground, we now can see America rising 1776 feet high.

Coming to the museum made me realize that 9.11 is my generation’s moon landing, world war, and civil rights movement.  It’s one of those rare moments where we reset our clocks and calendars and define a moment by what comes after it, while recalling what used to be.  September 11 is a reprehensible event that injured so many directly and even more indirectly.  It has given us a new way to see life – and death – and its lasting significance is yet to be determined.

I urge people to visit the museum and to explore the many books that have emerged about 9.11.  I also urge you to hug a loved one and to feel free to cry, whether it’s about 9.11 or something or someone near and dear to you.  If 9.11 taught me one thing, it is that it’s okay to release your emotions publicly.

What’s the next chapter for America?  It’s been 15 years since one of the worse dates in our nation’s 240 years.  Likely, some other catastrophic event will seize our attention.  Not necessarily another attack, but something of an enormous magnitude will rock us.  Disease.  The environment.  A natural disaster.  A meteorite.  Or a lone gun nut.  Whatever comes our way, we’ll rebuild and rally our spirits.  We’ve done it before.  We know this.  We are all 9.11.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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