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By: Shanna Brown
As New York City begins to show some life after six stressful months, it’s hard not to wonder if the City That Never Sleeps can bounce back from COVID-19. On one hand, indoor eating, exercise classes and bar hopping are not what they once were. But on the other hand, the city is in a better place than we thought it would be back in April. Schools have adjusted and reopened, and the parks safely bustle with New Yorkers again. Even though winter looms with a new season of unknowns, it is hard not to be relieved the city has begun to resurrect.
It’s not the first time New York City has had to rise from the ashes.
Everyone who says COVID-19 will be the end of this city has clearly not paid attention. It has been 19 years since the world changed and the city was put through one of its toughest challenges. It took some time, but a new, New York City was born after Sept. 11, 2001. In March 2020, while offices, schools and shopping areas shut down, the frontline workers and first responders once again stepped up.
As we look back on this day 19 years ago, we are reminded how quickly everything can change and how much we take for granted in our daily lives. There were questions and concerns then that New Yorkers faced, such has how would returning to skyscraper offices ever feel safe again after something so tragic? How could going to any public spaces, such as sporting events, Broadway shows or restaurants, ever feel safe again? Sound familiar?
I grew up in Westchester County, New York, just 35 miles north of Manhattan. My childhood was awesome. I lived a street away from my school and enjoyed endless playgrounds. I was allowed to ride my bike everywhere. I would go to my friends’ houses, the deli down the street and my school… I owned that town.
It was the last year of elementary school on a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. I was 10 years old and in a really good mood because my oldest sister was unexpectedly home from college. My family was all together for the first time in a month.
I was in Mr. Henderson’s math class. As we worked through the problems on the board, my homeroom teacher Mr. Frye barged in and called on my classmate Greg. He said his mom was there to pick him up. “Greg is so lucky he gets to leave early today,” I thought.
A bit later, Mr. Frye returned, and it was Ricky and Kay’s turn to go home. Someone from the back of the room shouted: “Mr. Frye, what’s going on? Why does everyone get to go home early?”
He replied, “Didn’t you know? It’s National Go Home Early Day!” and he left.
The next thing I know, they corralled us all back to homeroom. Rumors flew, teachers held back their tears and we sensed something was wrong. I recall hearing an atomic bomb was headed our way. I wasn’t even sure what an “atomic bomb” was! But I knew a bomb was a bad thing and that my school day had turned into organized chaos.
Eventually, they put us all on buses and I headed home still unsure about what had happened. I walked into the house and saw my middle sister in the kitchen watching the TV and crying. The World Trade Center was in flames on the screen. My heart sank and I ran to the family room to my older sister, who sat in silence watching the same thing unfold. I started to panic.
My dad came home some time later. He was in Albany that day with his boss and had driven home as soon as he could. My mom didn’t come home until much later. I was already in bed but awake. She was a healthcare worker, so she had to stay at work in case any victims came to her hospital. It was all hands-on deck. When they realized there were more dead than survivors, she made her way home to us. I’m one of the lucky ones.
I wasn’t old enough to deeply understand what was happening. But I was old enough to remember that day and for 9/11 to define me. I will always remember what I saw and felt, and I will never forget the resiliency I witnessed in New Yorkers. It is one of the main reasons I wanted to live in New York City when I grew up.
In my life, and many Americans’, there are two time periods – before 9/11 and after. It feels as if 2020 is on the same path. This year, we have our “normal” lives before March, where we lived in a carefree world. And we have our lives after March, where everything came to a halt and we wonder if our “normal” will ever return.
Though signs of normalcy now emerge in New York City, we remain far from where we would like to be. But like life after 9/11, we now need to give this city time to rebuild. Unfortunately, we can’t snap our fingers and return to the pre-March mindset.
I look forward to the day where I will wake up, get ready and head to Allison+Partners’ new office in One World Trade. It feels as though my life has come full circle.
Shanna Brown is the marketing and business development manager in the New York City office.