Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11th A Black Letter Day

Twin Tanks, Twin Towers   watercolor/mixed media

I woke up this morning with the memory of the events of September 11th fresh on my mind and found it a melancholic way to wake. Not sure if I dreamed about it or if the media coverage had simply saturated my psyche, but it was on my mind and heart. This past week I chose to paint an image that I have loved dearly for many years, and am now quiet fond of. 

In 1999, I was fortunate enough to go to New York to be on the teacher's advisory panel for Scholastic. Our meetings were held at the top of one of their buildings and I found myself wishing I could stand on their rooftop indefinitely, because the view was simply amazing. I had my camera with me, the kind that had the panoramic mode which took wide photos, so the clicking began and I came home with two photos of the New York skyline. At the time, I didn't realize how meaningful they would be, and honestly, I wish they were simply shots of the city, not shots of a skyline that is no more.  Nevertheless, I came home, filed the pictures away, and regarded my only visit to New York quite fondly. 

September 11th, 2001 was a red letter day for the entire world, or should I say a black one. I was teaching 3rd grade at Collier Elementary, and the word began to spread through the halls. Those of us who had  televisions could only turn them on with the mute button because we were asked not to tell the students about it until we knew more.  Mute was more than enough because those images screamed with more pain and emotion than any commentator could have ever shared. My student teacher at time explained to me that his mother lived a block away from the towers, and his face paled. 

I told him to go and make some phone calls, which he did, but he returned with no news and chose to continue teaching despite the fears I knew were racing through his head. I felt it was a testament of faith and courage on his part. It took three days before he learned the fate of his mother. Three days of not knowing, praying, hoping, but not knowing. Three days in the midst of our countries darkest hours. His mother did make it out, but the fear of all that ensued after that day was palpable and the days that followed were simply dark. 

I often wonder about the families that lost loved ones that day. I often wonder about the sheer number of losses we suffered. According to New York Magazine, here are a few of those numbers:

The initial numbers are indelible: 8:46 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Time the burning towers stood: 56 minutes and 102 minutes. Time they took to fall: 12 seconds. From there, they ripple out.
  • Total number killed in attacks (official figure as of 9/5/02): 2,819
  • Number of firefighters and paramedics killed: 343
  • Number of NYPD officers: 23
  • Number of Port Authority police officers: 37
  • Number of WTC companies that lost people: 60
  • Number of employees who died in Tower One: 1,402
  • Number of employees who died in Tower Two: 614
  • Number of employees lost at Cantor Fitzgerald: 658
  • Number of U.S. troops killed in Operation Enduring Freedom: 22
  • Number of nations whose citizens were killed in attacks: 115
  • Ratio of men to women who died: 3:1
  • Age of the greatest number who died: between 35 and 39
  • Bodies found "intact": 289
  • Body parts found: 19,858
  • Number of families who got no remains: 1,717
  • Estimated units of blood donated to the New York Blood Center: 36,000
  • Total units of donated blood actually used: 258
  • Number of people who lost a spouse or partner in the attacks: 1,609
  • Estimated number of children who lost a parent: 3,051
  • Percentage of Americans who knew someone hurt or killed in the attacks: 20
  • FDNY retirements, January–July 2001: 274
  • FDNY retirements, January–July 2002: 661
  • Number of firefighters on leave for respiratory problems by January 2002: 300
  • Number of funerals attended by Rudy Giuliani in 2001: 200
  • Number of FDNY vehicles destroyed: 98
  • Tons of debris removed from site: 1,506,124
  • Days fires continued to burn after the attack: 99
  • Jobs lost in New York owing to the attacks: 146,100
  • Days the New York Stock Exchange was closed: 6
  • Point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average when the NYSE reopened: 684.81
  • Days after 9/11 that the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan: 26
  • Total number of hate crimes reported to the Council on American-Islamic Relations nationwide since 9/11: 1,714
  • Economic loss to New York in month following the attacks: $105 billion
  • Estimated cost of cleanup: $600 million
  • Total FEMA money spent on the emergency: $970 million
  • Estimated amount donated to 9/11 charities: $1.4 billion
  • Estimated amount of insurance paid worldwide related to 9/11: $40.2 billion
  • Estimated amount of money needed to overhaul lower-Manhattan subways: $7.5 billion
  • Amount of money recently granted by U.S. government to overhaul lower-Manhattan subways: $4.55 billion
  • Estimated amount of money raised for funds dedicated to NYPD and FDNY families: $500 million
  • Percentage of total charity money raised going to FDNY and NYPD families: 25
  • Average benefit already received by each FDNY and NYPD widow: $1 million
  • Percentage increase in law-school applications from 2001 to 2002: 17.9
  • Percentage increase in Peace Corps applications from 2001 to 2002: 40
  • Percentage increase in CIA applications from 2001 to 2002: 50
  • Number of songs Clear Channel Radio considered "inappropriate" to play after 9/11: 150
  • Number of mentions of 9/11 at the Oscars: 26
  • Apartments in lower Manhattan eligible for asbestos cleanup: 30,000
  • Number of apartments whose residents have requested cleanup and testing: 4,110
  • Number of Americans who changed their 2001 holiday-travel plans from plane to train or car: 1.4 million
  • Estimated number of New Yorkers suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder as a result of 9/11: 422,000
They are humbling to me. My life changed, along with so many others around the world. But for each of the numbers above, there is a life that was altered in ways that I can't fathom because I am blessed to be where I am. I remember the gas lines, the grocery stores having empty shelves, the images played over and over and over. But what I never experienced was the terror of hearing, of receiving the news that my loved one was gone. Gives me chills just thinking about it.

I recalled the photograph I took back in 1999 and realized the importance of the image, at least for me. And as I began my landmark series I knew that would be the first that I would paint. It was my way of simply honoring the lives, the loss, the heroes, and our way of life. That painting is at the top of this page and a few others, from Mobile, are below.  The New York one is the only one not from Mobile in the series. I plan on spending some time today praying for all those families who find waking up on this day to be one they would rather sleep through. May God be with them and you.


Bienville Square Fountain in Mobile, watercolor/mixed media
St. Joseph's at Spring Hill College, Mobile, Al. 
You can see all of the images in my Landmark Series here.
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