It was a glorious sight before September 11, 2001. Two shiny towers created a reference point for miles around, giving Manhattan the center of its compass, just like the Eiffel tower does in Paris or the Capitol Building in Washington.
I pointed out the new one to my little girl, Luna, this morning on the way to school.
“This is how we know we’re walking west,” I told her. “Because the tower is to the South.”
“Is that like the one that fell down?” she asked. Yes, I thought to myself, it actually is.
When you make your way around upper Manhattan, there is an easy north-south, east-west street pattern to show you the way. But when you hit Greenwich Village, the streets go every which way.
Before September 11, 2001, the easy way to find true north was to use the towers as a reference point. After that day, the compass just spun, as the city struggled to figure out which way to go.
I had walked out of my apartment that day to see my tower, my reference point, with a burning hole punched deep inside its face. For the next few hours I ran around downtown reporting for CNN on a series of horrific events—people leaping to their death, buildings collapsing, debris burning, and firefighters at odds with a fire that wouldn’t go out.
I lived alone back then, so when I finally went home a full day later I didn’t have to explain to anyone why the absence of that tower made me feel as directionless as the city around me. And for many years, I walked back out my door beneath the empty sky and made my way north by mere habit.
Luna was born in 2005, four years after the attacks, as the city was just finding its way. It speaks volumes about something when you can’t explain it to a child. So I was happy that I wouldn’t have to do that for a few years, although somehow her presence made it easier to chart a new course.
September 11, 2005, was a beautiful, bright and sunny day. It was Primary day and I walked to vote, carrying Luna in a baby Bjorn. It was funny to see her tiny hands stressing to push the metal levers in the ballot box.
By the time she could walk, the same Hudson River parks where ambulances had carted off the injured had been replaced by water parks and swing sets. She loved a particular duck pond where debris had sat idle for months. That year was also the fifth anniversary, but she didn’t watch TV yet, so her youth spared me the annual reading of the names and the moments of silence.
That year we also took her on her first plane trip and her tiny hands left prints on the window ovals as she marveled at the reflections of the sun.
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