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For a Brief Moment in Time

Jerry and Carmine, the only two survivors of Ladder One in Battery Park. 36 Men Died rescuing people on 9-11. Two survived. You are looking at the m. And we're left to ask,...

Can We Ever Be As One Again ?

‘’....Everyone was so together, so united,’’ said my good friend Rita Gildenberg while at lunch last week. ‘’...I imagine that this is what America was like in World War II.’’ We were talking about life in the post 9-11 weeks. It was but a brief moment in time. And, yet it has been fifteen years.

On September 9th, 2001, I took advantage of the light tourist traffic of a Fall Sunday to do something I had always wanted to do- Go up to the top of the Empire State Building. Every other week I had come to New York, believing that I was going to do the things tourists do, and instead I always found something different although no less interesting. I saw lots of Broadway plays and spent a lot of time in museums in the city, but I had not done the Empire State Building. I called my kids and told them about the skyscraper and what a great moment this was, knowing full well I would be buying loads of souvenirs. But I had to hurry, they closed at 5pm and I was pushing it at 4:35pm.

When I got out onto the 86th floor observation deck, I made a complete circle just taking in the skyline of Manhattan. ‘’How beautiful’’ I thought. Within moments, security and police came out and told everyone to get off the building. ‘’Bomb threat, let’s go!’’ I hadn’t even taken one picture yet, but I wasn’t going to be denied now. I took off for the walkway and started snapping the camera. ‘’Let’s GO! Go! Go!’’

The New York accents were annoying to me and I did my best to shoot dozens of pictures while people gradually made their way off the Observation Deck. A Japanese man nervously stopped me and asked if I could take his picture with his wife. ‘’Oh the dilemma’’ I thought to myself. ‘’Okay.’’ I said, and quickly took a shot of him and his wife while the NYPD were growing in their impatience.

I conveniently got lost around the side of the building that had already been cleared, snapping pictures and taking out my film and replacing them with a speed I had grown accustomed to doing at sporting events. I could perform the entire action of unwinding the roll of film, popping the back of the camera and swapping it out for a new roll entirely with one hand. By now New York’s finest were very much out of patience with me. I was the last one left, I had one last shot in one last roll of film. I steadied my camera and took what may well have been the very last shot of the World Trade Center from the Empire State Building. ‘’It’s a Goddamn Bomb Threat, what don’t you understand about that?’’ He barked at me. When I saw the picture I fought so hard to get, I think it was worth getting chewed a new one by a NY Police Officer.

For some of us, the wounds will forever be fresh. Whenever we see the replays, we experience the same feelings. For some of us, it was a moment where rage and fear became wed as one. Whenever we see the replays, our hearts still go out and our eyes fail to remain dry. Yet for others, these wounds are somehow healed. They can look at the 9-11 attacks with the same detachment that our generation has viewed Pearl Harbor film footage. But in my many conversations with World War II veterans, their eyes tell of that familiar pain, so I know that healing can take years, even generations.

Everyone remembers where they were. It is one of those seminal moments that every generation has ownership of. I remember when it first dawned on me that this was no accident. The blood drained from my head and I felt weakened. Watching the entire moment unfold in front of me was almost too much to grasp. I had questions. ‘’How could anyone think that this is a small plane that hit the North tower?’’ From my vantage point i could clearly see the eerie outline of the jet with its wingspan now a black cut-out that went clear from one side to the other.

I rationalized. ‘’I fly into Newark all the time, flying into Jersey and over the Towers all the time. The air traffic is heavy.’’ Reaching to turn on a TV, the networks had just begun to cover what was unfolding. I finished my shower and came out to more horror. To me, it looked like a huge bomb had exploded out of the other tower. Depending on the network you were watching, the tv cameras had a slight delay and as I turned to look, I could see a plane flying into the other tower. ‘’This is no accident,’’ said Diane Sawyer. ‘’America is being attacked.’’

To me, the acrid smell is burned into my memory. The smoldering ashes and the frantic dig for survivors as two 110-stories cascaded out of the skies onto the ground below. And while I can think of hundreds of reasons to have the fire of vengeance and anger, I am now at a place where I can recall an America that ever-so-briefly came together as one.

For a brief moment in time, American flags weren’t considered controversial statements of American arrogance, as they are now. For a brief moment in time, people pinned flags on their lapels and bumper-stickered their cars, all without the fear of being labeled. For a brief moment in time, Americas saw themselves as the special peoples we are. For a brief moment in time, the exceptional words of our forefathers were on everyones lips. For a brief moment in time, we remembered the hearty brand of revolutionaries that left us to live in a ‘’land of the free.’’ For a brief moment in time, peoples of all colors, races, and backgrounds were united in one grand display of kindness. For a brief moment in time.....For ONE brief moment in time.

I used to work in New York City and Washington DC. I spent just about every other week there for a two year period. I came to consider Manhattan and Washington to be a second home. In New York, I had a clothier named Ahmed on 34th street and 5th avenue. Every time I came in, he would come out from behind his counter and greet me with a hug. He was a Muslim, and he was from Saudi Arabia.

He and his wife were a second family to me. He took my measurements and would make shirts for me. I gave him total liberty to get as creative and dynamic as he wanted to with my shirts. I would come back almost every two to three weeks and he’d always have a couple of really great shirts for me. He never made one that I didn’t like. Furthermore, if he sensed I was watching my money, he insisted that I would take the shirts without even paying for them.

On September 26th, I nervously boarded a plane back to New York City for my fourth trip in six weeks. It was a test of my faith to board a plane so soon after I came back from New York. I watched how quietly everything happened. The sight of American National Guardsman at the airport was something I won’t ever forget. I had four customers in the Twin Towers and others in Tower #7 that came down as well. I knew a lot of folks in those towers and sadly, I lost two of them. And it was by the Grace of God that I wasn’t in the Towers that morning. And now, five men of Arab background got onto the plane and the passengers grew very quiet. Your rational-self says, ‘’Nah, these guys aren’t radicalized.’’ And your irrational-self says ‘’How can you tell?’’

No one said a word on the nervous flight. Every move these guys made caused our heads to pop-up and take notice. It was eerily quiet. One of the men got up and disappeared up near the front. I remember being on edge, cognitive, and very aware. I looked around, and a businessman on my left-aisle side was in the same mode. When someone near the front of the plane laughed out-loud we jumped. There was just so much tension we couldn’t help it. There were maybe 60 passengers on a flight that was normally full, but for a moment in time, we were ready to go in as 'One' if needed. No questions asked.

We flew over a smoldering Manhattan as we landed in LaGuardia. It was my job to help customers set up emergency operation centers. All sorts of businesses were trying to get back online and recover lost data in the days after the attacks. All of the major computer logos were there, and we all were working together. For a brief moment in time, there was harmony and order amidst the chaos.

Dust was total and everywhere. It hadn’t seemed to subside a great deal since the afternoon of 9-11. People left notes in the dust on the windows, which I thought was a uniquely personal touch. One set of windows even had handprints of children all over them. A quiet rain seemed to weep sympathetically onto the twisted remains of the towers.

Pictures of the lost were hanging everywhere, loved ones holding out hope that there would be even one of them still alive. Hour-by-hour, bucket-by-bucket, truck-by-truck, soon made it clear that there would be no one alive. The reality of it all hadn’t hit a great many of the people there. It was almost too much to grasp and comprehend.

I headed to 34th street which was quite a ways from Ground Zero. I was looking for my favorite clothes shop and to check in on Ahmed. About half of the businesses were opened up again, still cleaning away the dust and trying to run their lives. But Ahmed’s store wasn’t opened yet. His windows were covered in a fine dust, but the lights were off.

The next day, I made my way to Times-Square and then to Jersey City where my customers were setting up emergency business centers. I had several large financial firms. The internet was still in its infancy with regards to how people did their business. But it HAD to work. State of the Art technology was needed to keep consumers conducting business and it was my responsibility to do whatever I could to help them out. Many customers were experiencing long waits before trades could be completed. Needless to say, Wall Street was hamstrung by the amount of damage done by the 9-11 attacks.

Our country galvanized together. Ferry boats transferred people back-and-forth to Jersey City and Newark without thought to charging them. All over New York and DC there were written signs that shared the people’s warm sentiments. The thought I had when I saw two fighter jets buzzing the capitol was that trepidation is one of these immobilizing things that make us either come together, or split us apart.

I have a keen sense for history, and as such, I took pictures of everything I could. One of my favorite things to do was to interview every-day people who were eyewitnesses to history and relay their feelings. Now, I was as much an eyewitness as every other New Yorker who was in and around the city during the month of September 2001.

Traveling with my camera in hand, I captured moments such as these because they are frozen in time and frozen in our memories. I spoke to authorities and military people wherever I could, and even took notes when speaking to them. The NYPD, normally alert and hardened men, were reduced to as much a look of bewilderment as everyone else had. I asked everyone questions. Today, it is an incredible journal of an incredible time.

Note the words of Lt. Col Bud Halstead. ‘’Seconds matter, when all this happened, I was prepared. At least, I thought I was prepared.’

In another note, there is a NYPD officer defiantly telling me, ‘’Don’t tell anyone in the USA how to live.’’

Notes from 9-14-2001 Notice the doodles in the background of the Twin Towers as rubble. I think the most poignant thing is the ''Thanks for making Eye Contact With Me''

Jerry: ''We felt pressure to get into into the fray, but it took too long to get back to the city. We should have been alongside them.''

Jerry and Carmine, the only two survivors of Ladder-One, Battery Park. Jerry’s retirement party after 34 years on the force was supposed to be September 12, 2001. This picture was taken on the one year anniversary of 9-11.

Notes from Jerry and Carmine: It reads, ''Firefighters in Ladder-One. 36 of 38 men died. ''They were the finest to serve.'' Carmine followed with ''Pain inside- all my brothers gone, just like that.'' Jerry added something to the effect that this entire attack on America was 'unthinkable.''

Note the drawings of the framework of the World Trade Center in the background

This era in American History was a once-in-a-lifetime event when we felt drawn together. Collectively, we knew we were changed by the shock of what had occurred and our sentiment lasted long beyond the funerals, ceremonies and promises never to forget. It was a time when the nation was waiting to find out what it was supposed to do, to be called to the task that would give special lasting meaning to the tragedy that it had endured.

On the one year anniversary of the attacks, I found myself back in New York City. I was there taking in the same September air from a year earlier. The clear skies and the fall temperatures were virtually identical to what it had been one year earlier. Everything about that day was the same, unless of course you were looking at the huge gap missing in the New York skyline. On this one year anniversary, there were tears, solemn reminders of lost chances, and a time to remember 2,977 innocent people who simply went to work that day.

Once Heroes and Once Honored, Now They Have Somehow Become The Enemy Within.....Not Right at all

''...When I signed up for the Police Force I wasn't afraid of anything. I was the toughest of four Italian brothers for Christ's sake. I became an officer at the age of 23 and had been in the NYPD for a little over a year when the attacks happened. Even though it hasn't been that long, I feel a hundred years older.''

A Temporary Memorial on the One Year Anniversary of 9-11 Attacks at Ground Zero

One Year Later, and a much different mood. We were United, Together, and One.

So many times Americans have been at odds with one another. Freedom is a rare blade that cuts on both sides and is as sharp on behalf of Hope as it is sharp on behalf of Hate. To explain this further, consider this:

The very freedom we have to protest is the very same freedom that becomes poisonous if it goes unchecked. The very freedom we have to speak our minds is the same freedom used to recruit Jihadis to perform the acts of destruction on our way of life. The very same freedom which allows us to worship as we please is indeed the same freedom that allows zealots to worship the hatred that consumes all other faiths.

On the grave of Robert F Kennedy are the words, ‘’Freedom is NOT Free.’’ It serves as a precautionary tale of what happens when we take freedom for granted once we are granted it. All of over this nation, we believed in ourselves as one. Who could have known that it would be for a Brief Moment in Time?

What have we learned about our country, about ourselves, in the 15 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? And when on earth did sorrow and pain and loss give way to the feelings we have now?

One can wander in the city as the sites and sounds of the ceremony continued. I headed uptown without a destination in my mind. Soon, I found myself not far from my favorite store on 34th street. The sun began to crawl down the sides of the buildings and a fall chill kissed my forehead at the same time. I came upon Ahmed's store and he was gone. His store was closed and steel building security walls were locked into a chain built into the cement below. I never got cognitive closure as to why he moved away so suddenly.

I walked up to the barrier where I could see the ceremony take place. I began to set my camera bag down on the ground so that I could change lenses. My other camera swung around my neck and cracked on the cement beneath my feet. ‘Well. so much for that one.’’ I thought. I began to put the other camera away and the voice over the PA system was participating in that now-familiar ritual from ground zero. He was reading a list of the dead. And his voice got to me.

It was the voice of a native New Yorker, a man who'd lived long enough to have been broken, but it sounded clear as he read name after name. Then it stopped. There was a terrible break in it, like a sheet of paper torn in half. A second later, I knew why.

He'd just read the name of his son.

The Sept. 11 commemoration is a familiar ritual now, and ritual is by definition comforting and even sometimes hypnotic. You know why we do it: America lost almost 3,000 people to the Islamic terrorists that day. But we gradually began to lose something else that day, one year removed from 9-11. We were losing our sense of one.

Police Officers Wore a Special Ribbon on the One Year Anniversary

Let’s face it. We Americans are not good stewards of our own history. We had a serious case of ADHD brought about by the fact that I can see the world changing in an instant rather than in days, and in an instant, my opinion can be shaped rather than to evaluate for myself. Think of it - when we used to get the news about Vietnam, it took several years for it to reach the level of dissatisfaction that caused a near riot in every major US city in the sweltering summer of 1968-69. Even the hippies who grew to protest the war, did so after months and months of watching and learning the news.

Nowadays, you get the pictures, AND the commentary, in an instant. You need not have to think and learn on your own anymore, you are told what the picture means, even if you can see it very clearly yourself. And little by little, the sense of pride and patriotism that we once felt, peeled away like the scaffolding of a collapsing 110-story Tower.

Of course, it isn’t the only thing we forget. We have lost the feeling we had when we awoke on September 12th, 2001. Vengeance was on many peoples lips, and with good reason. Much of the civilized world that wasn’t stoning its pregnant women to death and living in caves were equally angry. We forgot the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1994. The terrorists didn’t think ‘’big’’ enough then. And, in the days after 9-11, we forgot how close we came to being subjected to a calamitous biological war. Anthrax was already on the minds of people as a Bio-Agent of Mass Destruction. But the powder did little to make many people sick, but worry not, because the terrorists simply didn’t think ‘’big’’ enough. And yet, we forget.

And when two trucks of explosives and nerve gas tried to enter through the Holland Tunnel a few years ago, a late and accidental change in construction forced the trucks to a different checkpoint. Once again, the terrorists simply didn’t think ‘’big’’ enough. And yet, we forget.

And when there was fear of a ‘’dirty’’ or radioactive bomb parked in Times Square or even just last week in Paris, where two trucks filled with canisters of Ammonia Gas Bombs were picked up outside the Cathedral Of Notre Dame, the bad guys couldn’t pull it off. They weren’t organized quite well enough, nor prepared quite well enough, but don’t think twice that they won’t. And yet, we forget.

The fact that we forget and that we are no longer as unified as we once were means only one outcome is possible. We will be hit with another horror playing out before us, one where we will soon forget once our moral leverage and where the PC Police get done blaming innocent people for the actions of the guilty.

On that anniversary of 9-11, we held hands, prayed together, stood defiantly against a world filled with bad guys, and stepped with each foot forward with all the pride and dignity that steps the battlefield soldier and the first responder. Contrast that to now, where the police are so maligned for their inherent ‘’racism’’ that they are afraid to pull their weapons now in their defense of the innocent. When did out own police, beloved in the months after 9-11, become the object of ridicule and scorn? How many have since been butchered right there in the streets they are sworn to protect in the name of what they errantly believe is a god that calls for the bloodshed of the unbelievers? Oh that’s right, we keep forgetting.

So what comes next?

The years just ahead of us are so uniquely anointed. We have so much greatness and so very much to lose. We are divided and yet so fractured in many different ways. After the 9-11 attacks, we overcame so many differences and the world took note. The soldiers sworn to protect us were seen as brave and courageous. Think about it - would you see a commercial today where an entire airplane of soldiers walked through an airport and everyone would applaud for them? Do we see the American flags on every vessel of the sea, police car and fire truck now like we had done in the days after the attack? Do you remember when you saw the American flag and felt something inside? I’m sorry. We forgot.

But those days WILL return. They will come back, and they will be stronger than ever. We WILL be one again, and we WILL share the same feelings of patriotism that made us so proud as we determined ourselves to rebuild, better, stronger and taller than before. But it is just so sad that it will come with a huge price.

September 11th, 2002 The Imagery Remains the Same, The Pain Remain remains the same

But that’s how it seems to happen here in America. We fail to learn and share our history and then we doom ourselves to become history. Remember those ‘’small’’ attacks that tried and failed? They won’t fail again. If history shows us one thing, it is that the enemies of our way of life tried and failed the first time that they tried to bomb the twin towers. What happened? We forgot.

There’s no promise that climbing back into that vessel as one American people and taking the chance to push away from the shore of political correct land will be a prevention for the next attack. I want to make that clear. But we live in an America that has sold out to learning for themselves and like baby birds they await mother-media to feed them their next thoughts.

To those who do know what it means to ‘research’ your opinions first, godspeed ahead. When someone tells you that a Presidential candidate is one way or another, don’t buy it. Go and find out for yourself. Read their exact quotes. Use Wikileaks to read their exact words on emails. Study and determine what to tell others, and NOT what it is that you are told to believe. Mother Media will hate you when you rebel in search of the truth.

Here’s the hope that the next fifteen years is without the bloodshed and chaos of 9-11. We keep our eyes on the prize, that team feeling, the togetherness, and the desire to be remembered fondly for even a Brief Moment in Time.

Robert Bluestein

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