Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/11 Union Square

On September 11th, I was on my way to work, in a cab, late, as usual. I was in the Union Square area about a mile and a half away from the towers. I worked at CIDNY an Independent Living Center in Manhattan. The driver and I noticed the smoke in the sky. By the time I got out of the cab the streets were already thick with people. The first plane had hit. By the time I got to my desk, my co-workers had turned on radios, tv's any kind of communication device we could get our hands on. A group of my co-workers went back out to stand on the corner of University Place. The had a clear view of the the towers as they went down. I watched people crying and spinning in circles in Union Square. They were talking to themselves and holding on strangers. All at once, my co-workers, my supervisors and I began to grasp the enormity of what had happened. At that moment, our lives changed, and so did our jobs, We all had the same job: We pulled out our lists of clients, huge lists, and called everyone on those lists. There were and still are many PWD's living in lower Manhattan and Battery Park City, because many of the neighbourhoods are accessible with disability-friendly housing. We made it our business to FIND people. Sometimes it took weeks to track people down and we'd celebrate when they called us. Many were trapped in there apartments because of dust and debris. We made sure they had their meds, their equipment, shelter, food and whatever else they needed to survive and keep going. I always knew I was part of a community of people with disabilities, but nowI felt it and saw it all around me. I lived in Lower Manhattan too--about a mile and half from my office and two miles from the towers. That afternoon the only way I could get home was to walk. I walked slowly with a group of my co-workers. We dealt with the crowds, heat, confusion and that burning smell. For the next couple of days we camped out at my apartment together as we figured out how to get everybody home. I was grateful to be able to offer my home, to take care of people whom I loved and respected. It felt like the only possible response to the chaos. The burning smell lingered for a solid year. With or without a mask it was always there. I'd walk around my beloved New York City visiting people with disabilities in hotels and shelters. I'd think about fire and bone and melting metal and file cabinets, paper clips, suit jackets, and wedding rings. I think about the people with disabilities who were told to stay where they were and wait.I think about the pwd's who chose not to wait. I think about three thousand souls rising.

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