More Than Any Of Us Can Bear

I saw these two beautiful pieces of writing today:
Anatomy of a Building: Twin Towers/Tribute in Light
The Way We Live Now - 11-11-01, Lost and Found

Two years ago, on September 11, 2011, I wrote this for a private audience. Now seems like a good time to put it out there:

Last night, walking downtown back to my room from the NYU gym on 14th Street, I looked up and saw something resembling the moon shining from beyond the clouds. I wondered at its rather fluid form – then I realised it was not the moon, but the Tribute in Light. Funny, I didn’t notice it last year, but it’s just as well that I noticed it this time.

It’s absolutely surreal. I remember waking up around this time ten years ago, sitting down at the dining table for breakfast, and my dad telling me that two planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Of course, at the time, there was a building in Singapore known as the World Trade Centre (now HarbourFront Centre), and it’s a short and squat building, and so my mind struggled to reconcile the idea of a plane flying, specifically aimed at a point in the ground. I don’t know at what point I realised what he was talking about, but I do remember that I went to school and everyone was talking about it. I specifically remember being in Tao Nan School – I can tell you where, if it hasn’t already been renovated – and talking to Pearl-lyn, my classmate, that morning and her asking me if I’d heard about the attacks. I remember sitting on the sofa after school, watching the news, numb and terrified, and I remember thinking, too, that whatever I knew of the world was gone, and something new and strange and foreign and unfriendly had taken its place. I remember my twelve-year-old self thinking that there was not one person on Earth who had the power to protect me (twelve-year-old selves think in absolutes), and I was simply struck numb with terror to realise how alone I was.

(Yes, I know, terrorists terrorise; that’s the point. For all the rhetoric about not letting the terrorists win, show me one person who didn’t feel a little bit afraid on 9/11.)

I suppose, and I mean this without the slightest hint of irony or melodrama, that on 9/11 I knew my childhood was over. It was my coming of age moment, when I passed from bleary-eyed innocence into the full knowledge of the depths of the human heart. That feeling was reinforced only a few weeks later at Pearl-lyn’s funeral. In my mind, those two events define the year 2001.

I can’t decide if ten years feel long or short. On the one hand, I remember those events so clearly and with such precision that those crises still feel present. In terms of what I can and have always been able to comprehend, I don’t feel very different. In that way the time feels short. On the other hand, I have to take a step back and realise how young I was, and how much has happened in the ten years since. It’s unbelievable to think that ten years ago, I hadn’t the faintest idea I would be living in Lower Manhattan on the tenth anniversary. If you told my twelve-year-old self that, I wouldn’t have known what to think.

Today I walked out of my building in the afternoon and searched instinctively for the light, but of course it was not there. Except now I could see the towers, I could see where they should have been in the skyline, I could see them standing on a fine, sunny day exactly like this, and for the first time since I’ve been here, for the first time in ten years, I understood exactly what it was New York City lost on 9/11, and what it meant to the people who were here.