This weekend every newspaper that you read and every channel you watch will be about what this city went through 10 years ago. Whether or not you lived in New York 10 years ago, you were a New Yorker by virtue of being American, or even being human. It was a day when we saw the true consequence of what happens when one puts their ideology over their humanity, and we all wept together.
I was a New Yorker 10 years ago. I lived in a cool studio apartment on 14th and 7th, and I taught fitness at the 14th Street Y. That Tuesday morning I taught an early class at 7:30AM and was walking home afterwards along 14th Street when I heard a very loud plane above me. I was on the corner of 14th and 3rd.
When I reached Union Square, I heard what seemed like billions of sirens all at once. Moms reached down into their kids strollers, covering ears.
Must be some fire, I thought.
When I reached 5th Avenue, I saw people standing at the corner gawking at something southward. All I could see were large trees from where I was walking.
Tourists. I thought.
I got to 6th Avenue and saw the north tower smoking like a large cigar, and everything I’d seen and heard up to that point made terrible sense. But I was on my way to the grocery store, and I continued walking there with my legs growing more leaden with every step. So I stopped at the corner of 14th and 7th with a group of people, all of us looking south, all of us in various states of disbelief. We didn’t speak.
I looked to my right and there was a man dressed in a suit weeping. “Are you alright?”, I asked.
“All those people.”, he said.
Yes. All those people. I went home and called my mother. She picked up the phone, and I said, “Mom. I’m okay.”.
“Did something happen?” She asked.
“Mom, turn on the T.V.”
After that, I remember just sitting in my loft bed for a while watching it all on TV. And then I wanted to get outside. I saw the people lined up for pay phones, gathered around car radios, and then more people covered in soot, walking north across 14th Street.
The next day after that terrible one, I walked to the 14th street Y. I was supposed to teach a morning class, but because very little staff could make it in due to the lack of transportation I stayed to help. I also saw a desperation from this community. We were all desperate to help. Our fitness studio was transformed into a room full of food, clean socks, fresh towels and clothing. This was meant for the first responders, many of whom came to the Y to shower and refresh. It rained the next few days, and nothing was open below 14th Street. In many ways, the Y was a place where people could mourn together, to help in some way, to say thank you to those who were bearing the brunt, to be a part of the mourning and to begin healing. It wasn’t long before we heard about Manny DelValle, a great friend of the Y and firefighter from the firehouse next door-and the mourning began afresh.
Every year since that one, I think about the 14th Street Y and what New York was like in 2001 . I am so grateful that the Y was here, because it gave me a way to help and be in communion with others. Since then, I’ve brought two children into this world, changed careers, and moved from my studio in Chelsea to larger apartment with my family. This neighborhood has changed some, but the Y in its essential state has not. This is where we can come together to build community, educate our kids, spend our retirement, get healthy and share who we are. I am so grateful to live in New York City. I am so grateful that the Y is a place where humanity overrides ideology.
-Camille Diamond is the Director of Community Engagement and Community Relations at the 14th Street Y.
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