Saturday, September 10, 2011


As I pack to head for NYC tomorrow to help Lara through reconstructive surgery, I am bombarded with images of the city ten years ago. Ten years ago, I had been ten years out of NYC, so the images, while familiar, seemed distant. Nevertheless, two months before the towers fell, we'd taken Olivia to a concert in the plaza in their shadow, and she had enjoyed the fountain, the crowds, and the salsa dancing. We told her how tall the towers were and that Uncle Mark once worked in a bookstore down below. So all three of us had a point of reference.

The towers opened a few months before I moved to the city. For the 13 years I was there, they remained a lodestar. If I came out of a subway and got turned around, they told me where south was. If I walked around downtown, I could figure out distances by searching out their tops. When I worked briefly in Brooklyn Heights, I ate lunch every day on the promenade overlooking the harbor they dominated.

The morning of the attack, PZ called me, because his girlfriend had called him from a hotel. (When you stay at a hotel, you always watch the morning news. At home, not so much.) We watched, 200 miles apart and connected by a phone line, as what we thought was a small plane hit the north tower again and again.

Within minutes, it was clear that it was not a small plane. We got off the phones to call others. I called Paul and Lara. Then I called Chuck, who was standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue looking south. He screamed into the phone, "Thank you George Bush, thank you Ariel Sharon, thank you etc. etc." I sat and watched. I got up and worked. I came back and watched. Soon, I recognized that this was no longer a workday. Around noon, Lara and Kevin arrived with pizza. We watched and ate as though we were watching an apocalyptic Netflix DVD. Lara's uncle was at the Pentagon, on the far side, away from the blast. Her mother was stuck on a flight home from Europe and would end up at Gander in Newfoundland for days. Paul and I knew people who would walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge, pack up their car, and never return.

I have been back to the city many times, but I've never visited Ground Zero. Don't want to; don't get it. I felt a bit the same way about seeing the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. I won't go tomorrow, either. I'll sit in what's sure to be horrible traffic as police hopelessly search all panel trucks for whatever, and I may watch the news on TV, but my mourning will be less for the people lost than for the death of our belief in ourselves, for the descent, over ten years, into a sort of dithering madness, wherein the melting pot resembles a poisoned cauldron and the lady in the harbor not a guide but a guard.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I was packing cookbooks getting ready to move and Robert was in Scotland. Wow, was it hard to get a call overseas that day. They had no idea what was happening here.

My brother was in a plane over NYC watching the second plane strike while my sister in law was afraid he was already gone. Fighter jets scrambled to take his flight down.

I packed up my kids and met a sister in law (brother in India afraid to leave his hotel because of the celebrations in the streets) and we spent the rest of the day at the beach. Which was peaceful and quiet thanks to no air travel.

And now, ten years on, my students see it as a historical event. Few of them have any recollection or memory of it all. I used to question those who claimed to know the exact details of where they were when Pearl Harbor or JFK happened, but now I understand.

BTW, the Arizona in HI was definitely a good idea. Thanks, Mark, for pushing us to do it.