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Recollections of 9/11 -- by Karl Emmerich

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Union Park held a "Wishing Wall" and  makeshift vigil for 9/11 victims and missing relatives Union Park held a "Wishing Wall" and makeshift vigil for 9/11 victims and missing relatives

Karl Emmerich is not a NYC native and in fact had been to the twin towers just once in his life prior to 9/11, actually just once month before the attacks, in August, 2001. The emotional impact, however, upon returning to NYC after the attacks was overwhelming and not on the basis of what you might expect. Here is an account of 9/11 and many of the details of which might otherwise have been forgotten.

I bet I watched the second plane hit the
south tower more than the average person.
I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The
media seemed to also sense America's
utter disbelief of the unthinkable and
seemed to replay the bitter reality almost
in hopes that America would accept their
telecast.


I remember studying the internet and the
newspapers days after 9/11; and then, the
magazines once their circulation dates
caught up to the previous week's news.
And when the telecasts of the 9/11 attacks
ultimately faded into the new cover stories
of site clean up, stories of triumph, and
collected funds for the victims, I still continued
to search for more photos of the
attacks.


I couldn't take those images out of my
mind. I was obsessed. My 'passion' for
watching the most horrific events of my
life just didn’t seem to go away. And I
wasn’t sure why.
I’d go to sleep at night, watching the same
plane slam into the south tower and
shower debris everywhere. Moment later,
a huge fireball from the opposing side of
the building emerged countless times in
my mind.
I’d think about the last thoughts of the
passengers, the final emotions of those
people trapped in the tower, and how
anyone could pilot such an attack.


The events just didn’t make sense any
more than the lack of emotion that I felt
in watching it. It seemed I was forcing my
mind to replay the entire scenario of
events in hopes of making sense where
none seemingly existed. And I kept feeding
what came to be a 'black hole of consciousness'
with images and reason that
could conceivably let me move on to the
now seemingly insignificant, mundane
routine of life before me. Post-9/11 was
not yet a reality in my head.


One interesting thing to me about 9/11
was that I remembered so little in the
months following the event. Yet therein, I
found a clue as to how I mentally processed
the horrors felt by our fellow citizens
in New York City and the millions of
people worldwide who shared in their
horror. And I would venture to say that
many people, like me, found the events of
9/11 so frightening that they subconsciously
repressed much of what they saw.


It is said that Hollywood made every motion
picture years ago. Presumably, the
motion picture industry had written at
least a version of every possible screenplay
that could be written. There could be no
new plots, no new premise, and few new
scenes. And I’m sure they’re right.


Most new films even compare themselves
to another film – “not since Alien have we
seen more spine-tingling suspense" was
something similar to what was described
in the previews to at least a few suspense
thrillers.


But real life for most Americans really had
no predecessors for 9/11. Hollywood
hadn't even dared to concoct a script with
as bold a plot, as dramatic a result, or as
sinister a premise. Even the most noble
attempt would have garnered at best a 'bmovie'
rating. It was just too unbelievable.
I grew up with what seemed to be Hollywood’s
first round of catastrophe movies.


You may remember Earthquake, Towering
Inferno, and the original, Poseidon
adventure. I was around ten years old,
eating buttery popcorn and drinking a
large coke when Shelly Winters died
swimming through an overturned luxury
liner. And Steve McQueen’s fighting
presence amidst a burning skyscraper
grabbed my attention as well.


For me, Hollywood’s depiction of even
the most horrific scenes are memorable
because they were more grounded in reality,
posed "acceptable" limits of human
suffering, and were therefore less painful
to remember than what I remember on
September 11, 2001.


I was in New York the week before 9/11.
Since 9/11, I was in New York twice.
And only then, was I made to remember
in full, the details of what happened on
September 11th.
Surprisingly, I remained emotionless as
my plane made its landing approach by
encircling the ghostly airspace that once
held the towers. Even the streets of Manhattan
and the distant view of an 'empty'
landscape did not challenge the images
and emotions that I was able to repress.
But trodding through the shadows of a
New York January, the chills I felt
seemed to deepen considerably as I approached
ground zero.


There were the fences with holes where
glimpses could be had of the expansive
debris and clean-up effort. But what I felt
was still 'nothing' compared to what would
again rock my own internal world.


It wasn't the pictures being held by people,
the emotionless faces of those who
stared, or the commemorative FDNY
trinkets being sold. Instead, what I imagined
to be an unlikely source of emotion
really helped me deal with the almost
cartoon images that I had watched on TV
months earlier.


A bit away from the fences, the surrounding
streets and parks resembled a religious
vigil and shrine to those who died.
I could see people, standing with candles,
bearing the cold, and braving the elements
so that they could remember.
This made sense to me. I expected this.
But I really didn't 'expect' to care so
deeply about the fences and walls without
the vigil, without the mourners, and without
anyone standing around.


From afar, I saw what appeared to be
littered areas -- block after block of sixfoot
tall white paper. When I got close,
the type and text became legible, as did
the pictures of people. The paper was
printing paper, just like I used at home
on my inkjet printer.


It hurt me to see this, "but why?," I asked
myself. I pushed myself closer with hesitation,
almost like I was approaching a
cliff. I couldn't take my eyes off of the
pictures of people -- real people, people I
knew probably walked in the same steps
as I just months earlier.


I absorbed the words -- messages like
"please come home" and "we miss you,
dad" were ripping at my heart and it felt
very very heavy. But I continued. I
looked at as many as I could of what
seemed to be thousands and thousands of
prayers and pleadings for moms and
dads, sons and daughters to please call
home.


I think my pain doubled, though, as I
looked around to see a great many of the
messages fading with the weather and the
passage of time. I mused as to whether
time had healed or devastated the thousands
of families who 9/11 damaged. I
saw a few posters for lost family members
blowing on the ground, with torn tape
and a faded picture of someone smiling
and holding a child. I thought it sacrilege
that the only banner of hope for someone
should fade and be desecrated so quickly.
I wanted to stay. I wanted to put them all
back up, to reprint them all, and somehow
tell everyone that everything was ok.


I had to then walk away. But I prayed
that the many affected families could also
'walk away' from their own pain, hopelessness,
and despair.


As I said to Kathy, "let's keep going", I
walked away and looked away for the first
time in my life, fully acknowledging my
own limitations and perfectly justifying
my repression. I know that we cannot
forget and nor will I. But I know that I
cannot live to experience even in a second-
hand way, what so many 9/11 families
are experiencing today. I believe that
truly there is only faith and hope and
love, and the passage of time to heal.

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