A decade of loss

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For Kevin Wolford, the last decade has been a descent from security to loss.

(Photo courtesy Beverly and Pack via Flickr)

Once steadily employed as a roofer in a booming area of Florida, now his unemployment checks are gone, and he's used up most of his savings and his 401k. He and his wife are separated, partly because of finances.
He blames his problems on the economy. But looking back over the last decade, Wolford feels like he's been witnessing a national decline - one that began with the attacks of Sept. 11.

More than 1,000 miles away, from his vantage point at the construction site that tourists still call ground zero, Jose Bonilla has a different view. In his last decade he helped wage a war, had two kids, and stayed employed as he joined the crews building the soaring skyscraper that will tower over the trade center.

When he looks back at the transformation he has seen since 9/11, he sees rebirth. Like a phoenix rising up from the ash, he says.

For some, especially in the parts of the country most hard-hit by these past years of war, loss and economic hardship, 9/11 seems the moment that everything started to go wrong. That sunny Tuesday morning took root as a lingering fear: What if it was the beginning of a downward slide? What if we were witnessing an empire in decline?

But talk to New Yorkers about Sept. 11, and many will offer a different perspective. In New York, the memory of smoky devastation remains vivid, but the apocalyptic moment has already come and gone. While the last decade has come with bureaucracy and economic challenges, the dark fears that shadowed this city after the attacks never seemed to materialize.

The ash and the rubble are gone, and so - for the most part - are the uniformed men carrying machine guns.

When New Yorkers look back now, many see strength and perseverance. It is the fire they walked through and survived.

"There's even more pride that you get from that - that you made it through that dark time - that cloud," Bonilla says. "That's one of the reasons we get knocked down, is to learn how to get back up."

New Yorkers move on

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, lower Manhattan was covered in grey ash from the demolished twin towers while stunned people posted flyers of missing loved ones throughout the city. The rest of America watched the horror on TV, helpless. There wasn't much else to do; massive blood drives were organized around the country, and folks lined up to donate. Yet few people had been pulled out alive from the World Trade Center debris, so no blood was needed.

A decade later, New Yorkers are no longer stunned, said John Baick, a professor of history at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass.

"New York got over 9/11 much faster than anyone expected," said Baick, who is also a New York City historian. "New Yorkers are better at compartmentalizing. Nowhere else in the world is there this kind of diversity, tension and strangeness. New Yorkers adapt and adjust remarkably quickly."

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