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Even with bin Laden dead, memories remain

May 2nd, 2011

Bleary eyed and not quite yet awake, and having missed any news after 10 last night, I looked at our iPad and the Associated Press app with the lead news of the day. The news of the U.S. killing Osama bin Laden wasn’t registering.

Is this right?

Finally, I forcibly blinked a couple times and gained my consciousness and re-read the story.

Osama bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was killed in a firefight with elite American forces Monday, then quickly buried at sea in a stunning finale to a furtive decade on the run.

In the pre-dawn hours, alone in the quiet and mostly dark of my kitchen, I thought back nearly 10 years to the day all of us will remember forever.

It’s still hard to think about.

In fact, most times when images are shown on television, I will turn my head or focus on something else when the images come on the screen.

It was then that my wife (fiancee at the time) and I stood on the streets of New York and watched, in stunned silence, as the towers of the World Trade Center fell to earth.

They are images that are burned into my brain so indelibly that when similar images flash on a television screen, there is almost a sensory overload.

And while the footage and photos that have been and will be shown during this aftermath of U.S. forces having killed bin Laden that likely will focus on the destruction and the physical event of either the planes crashing into the buildings or the buildings crumbling to the ground, it is the rest of the day that I thought about this morning.

Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 11 in New York was like a ghost town. The usually bustling streets were reduced to a few lonely wanderers looking up and around.

After so much frightening activity that morning in which there were traffic jams and people running down the streets screaming and shouting, Tuesday afternoon was just plain eerie.

Nearly every business was closed with nearly everyone having retreated to their homes to see what was going to happen next, and asking, “Is there more to come?”

What was left was a scene straight out of a bad movie with blocks and blocks and blocks of near empty streets.

That night, we walked for, what seemed to be, miles just to find an open restaurant. The Blue Moon Mexican Cafe was packed to the gills. After we were seated, everything was almost normal. There was the roar of the voices in a packed restaurant, the racing around of the overworked waitresses trying to get to too many tables in a short amount of time.

But when President Bush appeared on the television screens in the restaurant, a hush fell across the room. I’ve never experienced such silence before and haven’t since. The only audible sounds were Bush’s voice and the occasional clink of a dish or silverware from the kitchen.

Every eye was fixed on the screens. Every ear locked onto his words.

We didn’t know what to expect, and, really, neither did he, but we listened.

When the president’s message concluded, the restaurant slowly reverted to it’s pre-speech activity, although slightly toned down.

After dinner, our walk was in near silence. There was the occasional person on the sidewalk and an occasional restaurant open, but New York had been brought to a standstill.

That’s what I remember today, the tension, the not knowing, the anticipation of the City That Never Sleeps on a night that was sleepless for many around the country.

There is a sense of relief with bin Laden gone, but there will be nothing that takes away from the memory of standing on the corner of Sixth and The Avenue of the Americas.

Silence.

That and the sunlight reflecting off glass, like falling confetti, from the first tower as it collapsed on itself on that day in 2001.

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