September 11, 2015 marks the 14-year anniversary of the still-unfathomable terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the time, I was a seventh grader away on a class trip upstate who came back to a world (and a New York) that would never be the same. Living in a suburb just 30 minutes away from midtown Manhattan, the somber emotions of a post 9/11-world were palpable; they hung in the air like humidity. Even as a kid, flicking through the channels and seeing endless footage of the Twin Towers collapsing, you begin to wonder: "When will things be OK again?" "Will they ever be OK?" Which is exactly why Saturday Night Live's 9/11 tribute — featuring New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and dozens of first-responders from Ground Zero — was, and still is, incredibly significant.
"Since September 11, many people have called New York the city of heroes. Well, these are the heroes," Giuliani stated in the opening monologue, flanked by the Fire Commissioner and Police Commissioner, as he introduced courageous members of the New York Fire Department, the New York Police Department, and the Port Authority Police Department. Giuliani also made mention of the men, women, and children who lost their lives that day — a day on which more Americans were killed than any other in our country's history — and hailed them as heroes as well in an important tribute.
But the mayor also concentrated on the thousands of lives that the brave members of the NYPD and FDNY saved that day.
"On our city's darkest day, their acts of heroism saved more than 25,000 lives," the mayor said, adopting the kind of strong, optimistic, and united attitude that he would come to be known for post-9/11: "Our hearts are broken, but they are beating. And they are beating stronger than ever."
It's a statement that described New York and New Yorkers in the weeks following September 11, 2001. For a city known for its hustle-and-bustle, "don't talk to me I'm in a hurry" attitude, the events of 9/11 united New Yorkers and Americans in a way that the country had never seen before. The 9/11 attacks were intended to bring down the U.S., but instead united us as a city, as a state, as a country. It brought us together. It made us human.
The musical guest that week was Paul Simon, who, clad in an FDNY hat, performed a poignant version of "The Boxer."
It was after this performance that SNL creator Lorne Michaels joined Mayor Giuliani and asked, "Can we be funny now?" eliciting a few titters from the audience.
"Why start now?" the mayor quipped. The audience roared.