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9/11: The Memorial in My Heart
(by Devon Ellington)
Today is the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in NYC, and on the Pentagon in DC.
As a New Yorker (who’d moved out of my 42nd Street apartment one block away from Times Square less than a month before the attacks), it affects me and will continue to affect me all my life. I’ve learned to live with it. I will never “get over it” as so many of those who didn’t live in NY or didn’t lose anyone in the attacks have demanded over the years.
I have stopped re-living the day constantly. Sometimes I revisit the memories, but I no longer live in them. I wasn’t in the city itself that day, which makes it more possible for me to do so than for those who were in the city.
The pain has gone from the searing burn to a dull ache, most of the time. But it lives within me; I’m aware of it, even when I don’t face it daily. It is a part of who I am now.
Forty-two people I knew died that day. 42. Most of them were firemen. When I lived at 42nd St. & 8th Avenue, I was in the midst of several firehouses, including the one I passed twice a day going to and from the shows I worked on Broadway: FDNY Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9. I talked to them every day; I baked for them at holidays. They were part of my daily life. Others were people with whom I’d gone to high school or college or met at events in the city during my years living and working there. I grew up in a suburb outside of NYC, and, although I started college elsewhere, quickly transferred to NYU.
The first few years were times of national mourning. The following years, non-New Yorkers started putting on pressure to “move on.” You don’t “move on” from something like this – the same way as we will not “move on” from COVID-19. We have had to learn to live with 9/11 and its aftermath; we have to learn to conquer COVID-19 and remove those officials who are actively trying to kill us.
The last few years, many simply ignore the day. I was shocked, when I moved to Cape Cod, how the day is ignored, especially since the planes that hit the towers left out of Logan. The various fire departments usually do something; but then, some of them sent help to work the pile. I realized last night, during an online homework group I run for the children of my godchildren, that NONE of them were born when 9/11 happened.
I don’t book anything for that day. If I have to work, I show up and go through the motions, professional and distant. I don’t attend networking events or launch parties or conferences on that day. My heart is elsewhere. I need it to be a day of silence, healing, and contemplation. I’ve created my own ceremonies of remembrance, my own rituals that combine both sorrow and healing.
I let those lost know that they still matter, and they still live in my heart.
This year, I will also watch the live stream of Table of Silence from Lincoln Center, presented by the Buglisi Dance Theatre and Lincoln Center, one of the powerful, passionate pieces of art that has come out of the grief and sorrow of this event.
Then, I will turn to my own rituals, and mark another year of learning to live with it.
I wish the events of 9/11 had not been perverted and contorted in order to facilitate the rise of fear and hatred; I wish the loss could be a foundation to build peace.
Even as this day starts to fade from the national consciousness, it remains an important day in my personal calendar.
I wish you peace. I wish you healing. I wish all of us justice.
Devon Ellington publishes under multiple names in fiction and non-fiction, and is an internationally-produced playwright and radio writer. She is also a content/marketing writer, and part of Fearless Ink.