9/11 As Past

22 years ago this morning, I stepped outside my Brooklyn home and saw a clear blue cloudless sky, cloudless but for a ribbon of dark smoke coming from the tallest point in lower Manhattan. For reasons I won’t get into, after exiting the C train at Fulton Street, I chose to walk towards Broadway and closer to the Towers rather than north to pick up another train line and continue to work. I won’t allow myself to regret the decision that changed my life. As soon as I put the camera in my bag that morning, I knew I was going to go closer if I could.


A few minutes later, I would be caught on the street, caught in the choking cloud of ash and debris, caught in the warm suffocating pitch black silence, wrapped in the certainty that I was going to die, sad and alone and for no reason. I will leave the full telling of my experience that day for another time. My thoughts go to the after effects.


22 years later, the day feels like it happened yesterday. Up until a few years ago, though, my body was still processing parts of the experience like it was today, assessing threats and poised to get me to safety when danger struck. Being able to move 9/11/01 properly to a past memory seems to have allowed the sweet bliss of reflection. 22 years after the fact, I’m acknowledging that surviving Ground Zero changed my worldview in a positive way. If I hadn’t been there, I may have supported the righteousness of a retaliatory war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I may have voted for Bush’s reelection. I may have later delved into conspiracy theories about that day and its aftermath. 


Instead, coming face to face with my mortality, with the brutality of attack, with mass terror, I came away knowing that the ONLY way to make things better was through loving all others, helping all others, through connection, and through building community. I learned this because it’s the only way that I survived that day— strangers rinsing off the caked-on ash and dust, drinking bottle after bottle of water handed to me from strangers, the embrace of strangers that let me release my fear, shock, and utter heartbreak.


I am not grateful for what happened on 9/11. I am and always will be filled with an ache of sorrow on its anniversary. I am so grateful, though, that I survived and learned from what I witnessed and experienced that day.

— Tom Harrison