Skip Pollard: Honor 9/11 in revived spirit of togetherness
I grew up in the shadow of New York City, in a small commuter town on the Jersey side of the river. Weekday mornings I’d see dads in our neighborhood walking two blocks down the hill to catch a bus for the mid-town Port Authority.
On weekends my parents would drive us into the city to see a show at Radio City or to visit a museum or landmark like the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building.
I remember my dad driving us down the Henry Hudson Parkway and seeing the World Trade Centers being built. My dad said they’d be taller than the Empire State. I thought there was something intrinsically wrong in building anything higher than the Empire State. I felt it was somehow disrespectful to not let the Empire State Building reign supreme.
After high school, I went to college in a small Victorian-era Pennsylvania town that was much like Grass Valley. I loved the idea of living in a rural community, but upon graduating succumbed to the pull of home, New York City, where I spent the next 25 years.
Most places I lived were in downtown Manhattan, and after work I’d go for a run south along the Hudson River, terminating in Liberty Park on the west side of the World Trade Center complex. I liked taking visitors for drinks at Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the North Tower. The views were exhilarating, presuming one wasn’t acrophobic.
In the spring of 2001, I was working for a digital ad agency when the dot-com bubble burst and I lost my job. After three decades in the ad biz, I was burned out on the hectic pace and dog-eat-dog ethos of life in the city. I needed a break.
I decided to take a year off and go back to Thailand, where I’d visited a year earlier. Aside from working in advertising, I’d begun teaching scuba diving and thought I’d go back to Phuket, where I could work the boats as a dive guide for western tourists.
So I sold my apartment and moved to south Florida to attend a dive school where I could get the additional certifications I’d need. I arrived Aug. 21, and expected to stay four weeks. But all that changed three weeks later, on 9/11.
It was a beautiful sunny morning, that Friday in Fort Lauderdale — just like in New York City. We’d just finished a seminar on mapping wrecks when someone rushed up to tell us “America’s been attacked. The World Trade Centers are gone.”
My first thought was that it simply couldn’t be. It was unbelievable. But then we saw the footage on TV. New York City was in chaos. My home had been attacked. I cried and felt sick to my stomach.
That night I emailed friends in New York with the subject line, “Are you OK?” I felt scared and guilty that I wasn’t there to comfort and be comforted by my fellow New Yorkers.
I wanted to know everyone was safe, even as I felt less safe than ever. I was relieved to hear back that nobody I knew had been lost, though some had very close calls.
My ex-partner, who worked for Fuji Bank, had evacuated from the 80th-something floor of the South Tower after the North Tower had been hit. Many of his Japanese colleagues refused to leave their desks and were killed shortly thereafter. Needless to say, he was traumatized by that day — as were we all.
In the weeks that followed, New Yorkers pulled together to help each other recover. The nation became united in its attempt to heal. We weren’t Democrats or Republicans; we were just Americans. People started displaying American flags, even in New York City where, a short while earlier, such patriotic displays were thought of as hokey, uncool. The terrorists tried to tear us apart, but succeeded only in uniting us.
Sadly, much has changed in the past 20 years. America has become so terribly divided. Perhaps, as we observe the 20th anniversary of this horrific event, a lesson we can take away is one of caring for our fellows regardless of their political stripe.
Perhaps we can look back on 9/11 and remember what it was like to feel like one nation, one people, undivided. Perhaps we can honor the dead by remembering what it means to truly love thy neighbor.
Skip Pollard lives in Grass Valley.
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