September 12, 2002
0245 IST

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'Remember those who are gone'

Suleman Din in New York

I woke up early this morning.

I looked through my closet and found the blackest shirt to wear.

I went to the mirror and looked myself in the face. I decided not to shave.

I went to Ground Zero, again. It seemed like my first and last visit to the place.

The wind was uncharacteristically strong. The sun was out, but the breeze was hard, as it pressed the fabric of my clothes against my skin.

It picked up the dust from the site, which pervades everywhere. It gets into your eyes, your teeth.

There were many people there today. Important people. Families. People for whom the site is more than just a hole in the ground, or something to photograph.

There were tourists today, too. Thankfully, they were quiet. They did not gawk, or fumble about with cameras and small children, or chatter on cell phones.

And there were many locals. Some were probably witnesses to the attack -- 50,000 New Yorkers saw the planes hit the World Trade Centre towers. Today, they carried flags, flowers, ribbons, or held pictures of friends and family.

Some had come wearing shirts commemorating the FDNY, the NYPD, and the victims. Others had sunglasses on, to conceal their identities, and the likely bags under their eyes.

There was plenty of crying. Some clutched their mouths, wiped their eyes, turned their heads away into the comfort of a caring shoulder.

Today was the first anniversary of the attacks on the United States.

There have been constant reminders, ceremonies and eulogies. The three-month anniversary. The six-month anniversary. The last-pillar-of-the-WTC ceremony.

It was as if we as a nation couldn't figure out when to cry, or when to lay our dead to rest. Even the last pillar was brought out draped in black, emblazoned with an American flag.

I picked up a bunch of newspapers on my way to Ground Zero, and read that some families had decided not to come to the memorial.

They had seen enough, they did not want to be reminded anymore, they wanted to get on with their lives.

I looked around the train this morning. Most people were following their routines, reading the paper or a book, listening to their Walkman, dozing off, or just staring languidly into space, waiting for their stop.

I overheard conversations among a few, who talked about that day.

"We lost so many people," recounted one woman. "One floor of my company was completely wiped out."

"This nice girl I used to see all the time worked there," an elderly man told his companion. "I learned just recently she is gone."

Above, a sign in Spanish, asking people suffering from post-traumatic stress after 9/11 to come in for free counselling.

For all the eulogies, all the reminders, the city continued on, bustling, working, and living.

Only close to the disaster site, people gathered, reflected, watched, and cried. It seemed like another world, cut off from normal life. It felt the same way during the days after the attacks.

Has a psychic division been created, I pondered? Will we be able to see downtown New York any other way? Will we always be looking at that cluster of buildings along the lower skyline, trying to picture the towers as they once were?

The melancholy was only heightened by the violin strains that seeped into my ears, as I watched families of victims walk down the ramp into the WTC's excavated remains.

I made out an Indian family at the 'circle of honour', a dark dupatta slung over a woman's shoulder.

And I listened, as the names of some Indian victims were woefully mispronounced. I wondered if the woman thought Rajesh Mirpuri was Hispanic, since she pronounced the J in his name as an H.

Then, something took hold of me and shook me, while hearing the procession of names, phantoms of lives now lost.

I never felt that I had the right to cry over the attacks -- I did not lose a loved one, or my livelihood, because of them. I have never been a victim of a racial attack.

Instead of being emotional, I have tried to be stoic and respectful.

But today, I thought about my wife's friends, who were mentioned early. And my eyes glassed up.

Frank Aquilino, 26, Cantor Fitzgerald. He had hung out with my wife and her friends during her college years. I never got a chance to meet him.

Bella Bhukan, 24, Cantor Fitzgerald. I had met her once at a mall in New Jersey with my wife. Who would have known that would be our last meeting?

And my thoughts dwelled upon the chance meeting I had at Newark airport with Anna Egan, wife of Michael Egan.

Michael, 51, was in the south tower, along with his sister Christine, 55, who was visiting him from Winnipeg. They died together.

Anna showed me a locket with Michael's picture inside. She cried as she told me how he had called, still trapped inside the building, to let her know to kiss their two boys, to say, "I love you darling."

I held her hand, to comfort her. There was nothing I could say to help then.

And today, among all the observers, awash in sorrow, I once again felt helpless, alone. I wanted my wife beside me, so I could hold her.

On that fateful day I had woke up late.

I was going to take the PATH train to the WTC, where I would get off and head to the J&R Electronics store, where I wanted to pick up a computer bag.

On hindsight, it was a stupid, simple errand. Selfish, in fact. I was risking missing work just so I could get myself a new toy, basically.

I planned to be there early, around 8:30 am. I could pick up the bag [which I had found on the Internet] and then head uptown to work.

But for some reason I didn't wake up. Otherwise, who knows, my name would have been called out today.

Such small things, they can make all the difference in life. What else have we not learned from this?

Be thankful. And remember those who are gone.

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