I lived in Jersey City from 2006 to 2008. I’d take the PATH train from the Grove Street stop into the city, exiting at the World Trade Center stop. I did this nearly every day. As the train entered the station we’d pass through what used to be the Twin Towers. It would roll through the darkness of the tunnel and then the light would suddenly emerge and the image would open up wide outside our windows. You could look out and see what on street level was hidden behind wooden fences but was very clear for us - a massive crater-sized hole filled with construction equipment digging away day after day.
The passengers and I would just watch. I don’t recall anybody becoming emotional about it. No tears or anything like that. If you didn’t know better you’d assume it was just a new building being built. Excavators and bulldozers moving dirt around. Almost a common city scene. Despite this seeming banality it was one of the more sobering images I’ve ever seen in person. One that still lingers in my mind when I think of that first moment when the light emerged and everything came into view. Nearly 3000 people died right there outside the window.
Looking back what’s also sobering is that, despite the magnitude of what had happened only a few years before, the train ride became a routine that was surprisingly mundane. We’d pass by the view of the hole, get off the train and rush off to catch the next one. Just trying to get to work on time. I guess it’s not that surprising really. We as people get busy with life and work. We’re good at adaptation and compartmentalizing. We’re also good at focusing on the present, on what’s right in front of us. As time passes it gets easier and easier to narrow our focus, to forget things, even things as monumental as the terrorist attacks of September 11th. But that may be exactly why it’s incumbent upon us to remember. Not to forget that day and the days that followed. Not to forget the people whose lives were stolen, or those who sacrificed their lives to save others, and not to forget the family and friends whose lives still reverberate to this very moment with the absence of their loved ones.
We as a country, as individuals, must not forget. We must also be vigilant. And we must be grateful. Grateful that we even have the luxury of forgetting.
Douglas E. Draper Jr. is an award-winning artist working out of Philadelphia. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute, College of Art and his work has been exhibited throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Annapolis, Baltimore and various other cities and galleries. His fine art and illustrative work can be seen from such publishers as Moonstone Books, Top Shelf, Desperado, IDW, and many others.
© 2023 Douglas E. Draper Jr.