The attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 was, essentially, our generation’s Pearl Harbor. If it happened during your lifetime, you can remember exactly where you were when you heard the news; many of us watched it happen on television and can remember seeing that second plane hit the tower and watching the buildings collapse. We were scared, confused, angry and devastated.
But many of us watched and experienced from a distance. Not so with author Christina Ray Stanton, who lived with her husband and her dog a mere six blocks from the World Trade Center. Who watched it unfold right before her eyes. Who breathed in the dust and heard the screams and the sirens.
Stanton’s book, Out of the Shadow of 9/11, tells her story of life and recovery after the attacks in New York City. She wrote it, she said, because she realized so many people just don’t know much about what happened. Sure, most people know two planes hit the Twin Towers, the towers collapsed, and thousands died, but they don’t know the smaller details.
“We were home that day, and we felt our building shake,” she said. “We went out to the terrace and watched the whole thing. When the second plane hit, it flew in barely 500 ft above us and the shock wave from the collision knocked us unconscious.”
Having such a close observation point also meant her and her husband have suffered health complications for years. Her hearing, she said, has never fully recovered. Both of them suffered PTSD. And their beloved dog passed away from cancer as a result of being exposed to the toxins coating the city.
But Stanton doesn’t want people to dwell on the atrocities; she wants them to be better educated.
“I’ve been a tour guide in New York City for more than two decades,” she said. “The towers have always been a big thing in my life, and I had an intimate knowledge of the buildings even before the attacks. Now I lead tours through the site, the memorial, and I talk to them about what it was like from a firsthand perspective.”
An understanding of tourism was part of the inspiration for writing her story; Stanton said at the three- or four-year mark after the attacks, people didn’t really know anything about what really happened. Over the course of five years, she worked on the book, revising, editing and examining the event overall and her personal story of recovery.
“Originally, I started with a tour guide narrative of what people don’t know and then
wrote tons and tons of versions,” she said. “My vision came about through the different versions, and even though it was a very painful process, it spurred a lot of growth and was cathartic, in a way.”
Stanton wanted to preserve the substories as well. She told me about the boat evacuations of
the city, the largest evacuation by sea in the history of the country. More than 500,000 people were evacuated in the boatlift; history buffs and others interested in that particular story can watch a documentary narrated by Tom Hanks about the historic event.
And for others who may be considering writing about something similar or processing a traumatic event in their lives, Stanton had very clear advice.
“Just start it.”
Note: In addition to discussing her story at Midtown Reader, Stanton will also display and share her extensive personal collection of 9/11 artifacts and memorabilia.