The Path train skidded into the station sometime around 9:40pm. Once above ground, I briefly surveyed my surroundings. It was a quiet night at the World Trade Center on the lower side of Manhattan.
I was traveling home from Virginia, and on the last leg of my trip. From Staunton to Charlottesville with one friend, from Char- lottesville to Newark, with two other friends, from Newark to New York by the Path Train.
And finally I’d ride from the Financial District’s World Trade Center stop to Astoria, Queens by the subway’s N Train.
My rolling bag clinked loudly behind me in the calm night air. People were going one place or another, but the small groups and individuals moved in a typical hushed formation.
The light turned red. I stopped briefly at the crosswalk, noting how much colder it was here than two days ago and longing for some sort of jacket. I hugged my bare arms and swayed from side to side. Maybe if I moved around, I could warm myself up.
During one of these side-to-side motions, I caught sight of the new World Trade Center building currently under construction. How crazy to think two huge edifices used to stand here, and within a matter of 100 minutes or so… they were gone.
What if I had been here? What if my friends had been coming into NYC on the Path Train? Would they have been crushed and buried forever under debris?
I don’t think about these things. You cannot live in constant fear of the unknown, particularly in a city with this many variables. New York is filled to the brim with possibilities for locals and visitors alike, yet both optimistic and vile outcomes can arrive with such promise.
So I turned my head from the destructive hole seared into the collective psyche of many Americans. It was time to go home.
The light turned green and I moved. There was one transfer from the R to the N train, and then the 15-minute walk to my apartment. By 10:30 I was back in Astoria, and before 11pm, I had checked my email and clicked on CNN.com.
And there it was - the news many had hoped for throughout the last 10 years was printed on a yellow banner across the top of the webpage. “Osama bin Laden, rumored to be dead.”
Soon the news was official, and the White House issued a statement. Obama spoke with authority and ended his impromptu speech with the last lines of the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Meanwhile, citizens gathered outside the White House and in Times Square. Some were also embarking on late night trips down to the World Trade Center, saying they “just wanted to be with everyone else.”
I didn’t go all the way back down to the Financial District, but I watched as every local network attempted to cover the events of the evening. And of course one of the most entertaining moments of the night came from constant Twitter feeds, buzzing 4,000 tweets per second (a record high).
New Yorkers seem bittersweet. Some are happy, others saddened by the reminders of the past. The NY Times literally stopped presses last night to change the front page, while local TV channels broke into regular shows to dissect the news as it occurred. Police have already inspected a strange box left in Time Square, and the nation has been told not to travel abroad because of anti-American sentiment.
So life spins on, and the battles of yesterday will continue to haunt the present - maybe more so now than before. Increased police presence in the subways and airports are not-so-subtle reminders of what happens when 3,000 people parish on their way to work.
At least we can admit that some form of justice has been served, and hope for a future unstained by the same blemishes of our past.