LESLIE CRISS: Bravery, not Broadway, was this tourist’s first impression of NYC

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“There exist some evils so terrible and some misfortunes so horrible that we dare not think of them, whilst their very aspect makes us shudder; but if they happen to fall on us, we find ourselves stronger than we imagined, we grapple with our ill luck, and behave better than we expected we should.”
– Jean de La Bruyere

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years”
– Thomas Wolfe

My first visit to New York City took place only weeks after terrorists had taken out the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
I’d seen the towers before, gracing the city’s skyline in scenes from screens both big and small. But I never saw them in person.
My friend Lena Mitchell and I had been planning a trip to Spain. We were set to buy our plane tickets on Sept. 11, 2001. That purchase was put on hold for a time, until we decided whether we’d give in to our trepidation and not travel, or be bold and fearless sojourners.
We chose to press on.
In early October, less than a month after 9-11, we flew to New York, en route to Spain, and spent the weekend with a mutual friend living in the city. She was in class our first evening in the Big Apple, so Lena and I ventured out on our own, ending up at the Empire State Building.
We made the speedy, tummy-tumbling trip to the top and stepped out onto the observation deck.
My initial view of the city that never sleeps was breathtaking. Then I turned to get a different view, and my heart broke as I gazed down on Ground Zero.
Human beings and heavy machinery, looking tiny from my spot above, worked tirelessly below. They would work through the night and into the days ahead.
On Saturday afternoon, the three of us walked toward where the towers had recently stood tall. Police officers and fire fighters stood guard at every corner, at every turn, keeping tourists like us at a safe distance from that place where nearly 3,000 human beings lost their lives.
A refrigerated truck from a favorite seafood seller in Biloxi passed me as it left Ground Zero, and someone’s comment from the street made me realize it was not there to haul shrimp.
I remember the still-hovering dust. I remember the signs and photos pleading for news of missing loved ones.
I remember the tenacity – and the hopefulness – of those in the city. I remember residents’ resolve to rebuild.
And that’s when I fell in love with the city of New York.


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