Andre Archimbaud reflects on the lasting legacy of the 9/11 attacks
Because of the way the events unfurled in the ensuing hours, my memories of September 11th switch on like an old tube television set, beginning at the corner of Park Avenue & 89th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Unlike an old tube TV with rabbit ears, those memories are not blurry nor black and white, but like crystal; cut from a crisp, colorful cloth of pain and sadness.
It was at Park & 89th that I got dropped off by a taxi around 12:30am on September 11th, 2001. The day was only 30 minutes old and I had just finished my shift as an audio engineer and producer at CBS News in the Radio Network at midnight. It was absolutely pouring rain outside and I had to scamper, dodging a deluge of drops of rain to get to my apartment.
As was usual for me back then, I stayed up until around 3:30 in the morning, listening to music and decompressing from my night in the news business. I might have had a glass of wine or a beer to help me do so, but that's the only memory about that day, in fact that week, that isn't crystal clear in recollection.
The last thing I remember before going to bed that early morning in Manhattan was that I finished listening to Nick Drake's Pink Moon album and thinking that it was just about the most perfect 28 minutes in music. It's fitting that it was last thing of beauty I consumed before the morning that ensued.
Four or five hours later, my next memory is the phone ringing, alerting me to the news that the world had forever changed for me as a New Yorker, as an American and, maybe most of all, as a human being.
I wasn't on the schedule at CBS for Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, but I was in work by noon that day. I had to walk, as they had cut off subway service throughout the city. By 11 am that morning, fighter jets scrambled had been scrambled, flying formations and protecting what remained of the New York City skyline. I saw them cutting through the most clear, azure sky I can remember as I crossed through Central Park on my way to the CBS Broadcast Center.
It didn't rain again until Friday, September 14th and then not again - it seemed - until March 2002.
The next several days are a blur of painful memories, but tame in comparison to those who died or survived the scene of that Tuesday morning. I worked from noon on Tuesday until Wednesday morning around 9:30 am. I went home and passed out from exhaustion - physical and mental - for about 12 hours. I was awoken again by a phone call from my cousin's wife. She had survived that morning. I didn't even know that her company at the time had moved into the World Trade Center about two months prior to 9/11. She regaled my wife and I with the story of what had happened to her on the day, how harrowing it was, and how her husband thought he'd never see his wife again.
For the next several weeks, most neighborhoods in Manhattan and around New York City had "MISSING" posters plastered at subway stations or on light poles from family members pleading for any information leading to a safe return of their loved ones. As autumn turned to winter, the number of posters dwindled.
Cut to the summer of 2010, and my wife and I had met two people - a man and a woman - at a neighborhood museum. We became fast friends, but it took us a few months to find out that Ed Schmall's partner, Donna, had perished in the Twin Towers that morning.
The thing that lingers with me 15 years on isn't the hate or the fear that could attend these memories. First, it's the sadness and pain of these recollections. Second, it's the idea that we get one chance at this life, and that we need to make the most of the time we have with ourselves and our loved ones.
About two weeks after 9/11, I was downsized in a cost-cutting measure at CBS News. It was a gut-check for me. I was 29-years-old and suddenly unsure if what I had done with my life up to that point was what I was meant to do.
I spent the next few years doing every kind of work you can imagine in sports, sports broadcasting, television, film, and so much more. My goal was to try everything I could before deciding on a path. You could call it an early version of "FOMO."
The sort of carnage we saw on 9/11 will engender that in a person.
I have pages and pages of memories from this time in my life; they're irrevocably emblazoned on my brain. Those memories fuel me to try to be a better person and create a better world for all of us that remain. It's what the spirits of those who died that day charge us to do. It's what Donna would want. It's what all the employees at Aon, Cantor Fitzgerald, Windows on the World and the rest of those who didn't survive that day would want.
In fact, it's what the spirit of the 343 FDNY fire fighters and 60 Port Authority & NYPD police officers demand.
Once you get past the impact on the victims and their loved ones, events like this are about those of us who are left behind and what we choose to do with our remaining time in this life.
The final, beautiful track on Nick Drake's Pink Moon is 'From The Morning,' the lyrics of which echo that sentiment in a fitting way:
A day once dawned, and it was beautiful
A day once dawned from the ground
Then the night she fell
And the air was beautiful
The night she fell all around
So look see the days
The endless coloured ways
And go play the game that you learnt
From the morning.
And now we rise
We are everywhere
And now we rise from the ground
See she flies
And she is everywhere
See she flies all around
So look see the sights
The endless summer nights
And go play the game that you learnt
From the morning.