Living Through The Tragedy: What 9/11 Means To A True New Yorker

by Victoria Reitano
Cameron Whitman

"New York, born and raised." That's generally the first thing out of my mouth when people ask me where I'm from.

Sure, I grew up in a borough, but that's part of the city of New York. So, say what you will, but I'm a true New Yorker.

New York City's beat fuels my soul. This city is the best "boyfriend" anyone could ever ask for. It's challenging; it's wonderful, and it's always supportive.

I love NYC because it made me who I am.

On September 11, I am reminded of this more than I am on any other day in the calendar. With each passing year, the children of the fallen grow up in a world that's much different from the one I grew up in.

New York City before 9/11 was the city of "Working Girl," the city of "Wall Street." It was the City of Dreams. People came here to find themselves, and those of us lucky enough to be born within its borders grow up in a world that makes us believe anything is possible.

I was very young on the morning of 9/11.

We lived on the south shore of Staten Island and I went to school on the North Shore. (For those of you who don't know, Staten Island is a sleepy little island that is only 20 minutes south of Manhattan.)

Lower Manhattan is practically in Staten Island's yard, and that meant I could see the Twin Towers rising up every single morning on my way to school.

There's nothing like coming over the hill on Victory Boulevard as you approach the ferry. The whole city rises up to greet you; it's like a scene from a Disney movie.

September in New York is “You’ve Got Mail” season. It is a season of fresh beginnings and new chances.

The whole city seems to carry the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the wind sounds like a new notebook cracking open for the first time. It’s a little crisp, a little lighter. Time stands still in September.

You can spend a lazy Sunday in the park without guilt, knowing you’ll be “back at it” on Monday.

Fourteen years ago: It's a lifetime.

Think about when you were 14. I was going into high school. Donning my bobby socks and freshly starched blazer, I was preparing to take on the next challenge in my life.

For some, 14 years ago today is the day time actually stood still. Our Twin Towers fell that day.

Each year I’ve lived on the island of Manhattan, 9/11 has meant something different to me. It always means a lot.

I don’t think there will ever be a year when I forget the atrocities of that day; nor will I ever forget the signs in the supermarkets, the soldiers at the Homeport or the dogs brought in to search, hunt and, later, heal.

I love New York City with every fiber of my being. I believe it is my greatest love affair.

That day is one of many in my childhood that made me who I am.

That day made me realize time is already measured out, and you only have so much of it. You’re not invincible, no matter how invincible you may feel.

Time marches on and on. At some point, you’re not meant to go along with it. It taught me to fight, to be brave, to be thankful and to be humble.

September 11, 2001 made me a New Yorker. I was born in this city, but that day? That’s the day I was branded with the fire every true New Yorker feels at some point in his or her life.

I will never forget those who lost their lives that day. Many of them never got to see 27.

Today, I fight for them. I get up and fight for my dreams because they could not fight for theirs. Not out of revenge or anger, but out of gratitude for my chance to make a difference and move forward.

Smile at a stranger today. Buy someone coffee.

All of New York mourns on this day, and for once, instead of looking down at the pavement or your phone, pick your head up and smile at your neighbor. You never know how they were connected to that day.

The one act of kindness you decide to show today could, quite possibly, change someone's whole life.