At 321 Woodmere Blvd., in the Five Towns of Long Island, New York, there stands a mansion-like building. It is an attractive, red bricked edifice with a large circular driveway leading up to its doors. On either side of the entrance are some bushes that flower in the spring, but are rather boring the rest of the year. As you face the building, all the way to the left stands a small cherry tree. I haven't seen the tree in years and I have no idea if it has grown or if it is one of those dwarf trees, meant to stay small forever. But I am sure the tree is still there and I am sure there is a group of people who think of that tree every year on September 11.
I was there when the tree was planted.
On September 11, 2001 I was at my job at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC). Many of us saw the second plane hit the twin tower and watched in horror as the towers fell. The only work that got done that day was arranging for the children to go home early, making sure there would be someone home for them when they arrived. Many staff members frantically tried to contact loved ones who worked in or near the towers before leaving for home. One of my colleagues left and did not return for months as she mourned her husband who perished in the towers and began raising her two young daughters without him.
I went home to a silent house as I waited for the girls to come home. They were 7, 5 and 4 years old. Today I asked Liat what she remembered about September 11 and it was minimal. Tali and Orli don't remember the day at all. Liat said she remembered that Isaac was home that day. He wasn't. He came home very, very late as he had to walk to Queens from Manhattan. From Queens he caught a ride home with his friend Nahum. There were no subways or railroads running. He did stay home the next day. We all did. The whole city did. That is, except for the search-and-rescue people, the firefighters, the policemen, the volunteers...and the men and women who never returned home from work the previous day. The next few days were quiet, the skies were blue. No planes were flying and it seemed as if a hush had fallen over the entire world. I remember being relieved when it rained a few days later. "What took so long for G-d's tears to fall?", I thought. The rain was more in keeping with our collective mood.
Over at HASC, we didn't really know what to do with ourselves. Several of our own had experienced close calls on that day, but one of ours had lost her world in those towers. One morning months later our principal, Clare, gathered us together outside. I don't remember what she said, but I'm sure we cried as we watched her plant that tree. The tree was in honor of Megan's husband and all the others, in honor of all the people that rushed into those buildings to save others, in honor of all the people that volunteered in the aftermath of that day and in honor of our beloved New York City, so wounded and yet so proud.
Megan came back a few weeks later, bearing a huge basket of chocolate kisses to thank us for our prayers and support. She got right back to the business of doing her job. We all took our cues from her and did the same and pretended that life was normal. But it wasn't.
My life changed on that cloudless day and in those hours of silence that followed. I felt fear. Though the fear has receded, there are times it comes back to me. In the weeks and months that followed, everytime I would drive through the tunnel at the end of the LIE that emerges out onto the Gowanis before the BQE, I would look at the skyline and search for the gap of where the towers were and I would wonder, I still wonder, how could those buildings not be there. Gone. Vaporized. "Take nothing for granted", I would tell myself as I drove down that road. And then would come the question--"What am I doing here? In New York, the city I love, but I have a home somewhere else."--a question that I answered six years later when I boarded a plane for my one-way flight to Israel.
Some of you have been kind enough to share your memories with me:
One Tired Ema had this to say on Facebook: The documentaries have begun. Honestly watching the video of the towers falling looks like movie special effects--still completely beyond belief.
I remember some things so clearly, what the weather was like, who I was with, that we could see smoke up by Yankee Stadium. But I was at work--and I can't remember how I got home. But I remember that I invited colleagues who lived in Queens and Brooklyn to come home with me.
Hadassah visits Ground Zero and remembers.
Mrs. S. expresses dismay that little has changed since that day.
Contrary to the title of her post, I thought Lisa was pretty good at recalling the day's events.
A Mother in Israel also recalled on Facebook: My husband called me from work and told me to turn on the TV. I had a baby who was 2 months old. That was the summer of the Sbarro bombings and others here in Israel.
Shari is no longer afraid.
Tomorrow I will go to work and I will ask everyone where they were on that day. I will tell them where I was and what I experienced and what New York City was like before and after. I will them about the people I was with, people of different faiths and color and how we mourned together for all that was lost. And I will describe that little cherry tree on Woodmere Blvd., sure that it is thriving and cared for and in its own way, honoring and remembering.