Fifteen years ago, I never could have imagined the position that I would be in today.
Just two years out of college, I was starting my career at the Staten Island Advance, as an editor. On a bright Tuesday morning, I was jolted awake (I worked evenings on Tuesdays then) by my mother’s voice on the answering machine, begging me to pick up the phone.
While most of what followed is a blur, there are pieces of that day that stick out: My mom – who worked across the street from the towers - explaining that they had evacuated; flipping on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit; taking the world’s fastest shower and racing to the newsroom, where I wouldn’t have to be alone.
I sat, for what seemed like an eternity, helplessly watching the horror unfold on a TV mounted high on a wall in the newsroom. The editors remade the front page of the paper to capture what was happening. Restless and sick to my stomach, I announced that I would head to St. Vincent’s Hospital to give blood and I’d write about what was happening there – at least I could do something.
When I arrived at the hospital, it was controlled chaos. Would-be blood donors gathered in a conference room to fill out forms and wait. Eventually we were told that we could get a call when they needed us to come back. Those calls would never come.
Luckily for me, I did get a different call later that day. My mom had made it over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot and she would be coming home that night. Home, she came, with ash and soot in her ears, her hair, her clothes. The sense of relief I felt was overwhelming. But I also felt guilty because I was among the lucky. My mom had come back home.
Everything changed that day. As a nation, we would never take our sense of security for granted again. My priorities shifted. I was overcome with sadness and for months, we all walked around in a haze.
I don’t believe that time heals all. I think time dulls the pain; I think time has a way of making some memories more vivid and others less powerful.
In my case, time allowed me to spread my wings. I eventually left the newspaper to explore a career in public relations, hospital administration and government communications. I am now the Borough President’s Director of Communications and External Affairs. I took the position in 2014 and a few short months later, the 9/11 ceremony was on my plate.
This event is the single most important thing I do all year long. It’s significant for so many people and it’s an opportunity to reflect, take a moment of solace and be together without really having to say a word. With this responsibility – which I gratefully accept – there comes much anxiety in getting the details right, in anticipating what our community wants and needs, finding the perfect balance of respect and creativity, and organization for a seamless memorial event.
Each year, I hide behind the stage dictating what is to happen next and praying that all goes well and that we as a team have delivered exactly what surviving family members and friends want and deserve. It’s an honor and a privilege. At the conclusion, my nails are bitten off, I’m still shaking and hanging on every word of every person that goes by, looking for validation like a child.
I share this with you because I care. I care so much about each of you, every person who suffered that day and continues to suffer and feel the losses. I genuinely hope that this ceremony gives you peace. After the very first ceremony my team and I organized in 2014, I stood next to the Borough President as we watched family members gather their roses and leave them by loved ones’ facades on the memorial. This is why we do what we do, he whispered.
This is why.