Last year on this day, I was a week away from getting married. I was full of hope and optimism and excitement, but I was also filled with sadness and reflection on the tenth anniversary of what some have called “the day that never stopped.”
Here’s the post I wrote that day, on falling in love with New York - and, with love.
Originally posted on the New York Daily News, here.
On September 11th, 2001, I hadn’t yet moved to New York. I hadn’t yet fallen in love with this city, with its streets, with its skyline, with its strange array of smells, with the people who would come to be my family and shape my life.
On that day I was still in California, a senior in high school, speeding along on my normal route from home to my first morning class. I was late, as always, and didn’t waste any time cueing up my favorite music to blast on the 20-minute drive. In the split second before I hit play I heard a snippet from the radio, something about the World Trade Center. Assuming they were talking about the 1993 attacks - maybe it was the anniversary? - I shrugged it off and pushed in my mix tape, cranking the volume as I cruised along blissfully to school.
Everyone has their own story of where they were when and how they learned and how they felt and what it meant to them. For me, 3000 miles away from where it all happened, it was an abstract and bizarre day filled with confusion and trepidation, not only of what it meant for America but of what it meant for the world when we retaliated, as we all knew we would. There weren’t many tears in the halls of our high school, only faces filled with shock and incomprehension. Later, at the youth radio program where I worked, we would look at the front pages of New York City’s papers, analyzing the emotion and the style of their headlines in a scholarly, removed way. In a particularly tone-deaf instant, my college counselor would look me in the eye unflinchingly and suggest the attacks might improve my chances of getting into college in New York, as others might be afraid to apply.
Nine years later on this day, passing through the streets of lower Manhattan, watching the memorials and the family members read the names of those they lost, I feel like a stranger here again. This is my home, but today I feel like a tourist, a visitor, only able to observe those who were here then and listen to their stories. It meant something so different to them, something I will never fully be able to understand.
What I do know is how lucky I feel to live in New York City today, how thrilling it felt to ride my bicycle over the Brooklyn Bridge this morning on this beautiful clear day, surrounded by New Yorkers so eager to live and be seen living - running, biking, standing in the streets, holding each other, remembering. How excited I am to be marrying the love of my life in just seven days, and how scared I felt this morning at the possibility that anything could happen to us at any moment.
We live in cynical times in what can often be a very cynical city, but it can also be the most sentimental, spine-tinglingly life-affirming place in the world. On Friday I went to the Marriage Bureau in lower Manhattan with my friend to get his officiant license so he can perform our marriage ceremony. We were tired and frustrated and prepared for a hassle, but walking in was like being transported to the Twilight Zone, a corner of New York where unbridled optimism reigned supreme.
My friend Henry signs his name in The Big Book of registered marriage officiants in New York.
Staffers beamed at us, offering kind words and assistance. Everywhere around us, a rag-tag assortment of couples lined up in their versions of wedding attire to tie the knot. A middle-aged woman with a mohawk and a vaguely European accent, tattoos peeking out all over her body from beneath her strapless sundress, clutched a bouquet of flowers as she and her new husband posed in front of the photographic wall inside the bureau made to look like a street scene on a sunny Manhattan day. A curvaceous African-American bride decked out in a glittery white floor-length dress, hair curled and sprayed, sashayed down the hall arm in arm with her groom in a dashing pin-striped suit, surrounded by their army of family and friends. As I walked out I even passed a girl I went to college with, beautiful in a retro-style yellow dress and perfect make-up. It was so beautiful and strange, this surprising embrace of tradition here in the most unromantic of settings - a cold government building that might as well be the DMV.
The moment was especially touching because, in many ways, marriage no longer matters. You don’t need to be married to have children, to live together, to love each other. You don’t need to be married to take advantage of each other’s health care, tax breaks, retirement funds. But here we all are, lining up one after the other to repeat this ritual - because marriage still means something. You may not believe in it personally, but for so many it undoubtedly continues to hold weight. We do it because we want to know we’ll have that bond of love for life, we want that promise that someone will be there by our sides to walk through the difficult times, to share the good times, because we don’t want to go through these journeys alone.
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, in which families lost their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, people reaffirmed their will to live with love, sparking countless proposals and wedding stories, as if there was nothing stronger to prove our strength and indestructible nature as a human race than to get married. Love is an age-old response to tragedy, and even though so many traditions have been diluted, these paces we go through still seem to mean as much today as ever. Our marriage is even a response to tragedy in its own way - having lost both of our fathers, my fiance and I chose to push forward with happiness in our own life through this expression of love.
Ten years after the attacks and nine years after moving here, I’m thankful for the strength and resilience of New York City, for its unwillingness to become a bitter and angry place and its unending capability to surprise with beauty in unexpected places, becoming ever more vibrant, electric and unique. New York, for being a place where love shines so bright, thank you for making me feel so excited to be alive and to be getting married. You deserve the biggest love letter of all.