This is my first 9-11 away from New York, which brings an odd sense of relief and loss. I won’t sit here and write that it was an ennobling experience for me. Nor is it one that is lessened by the passage of time. It was awful, and time won’t change that. I can still see the first tower fall while I was watching it, standing in the penthouse of my office tower in midtown. I can still remember the phone calls that almost had the sense of goodbyes that I made to family and friends – the promises that I would seek out and take care of my little brother and the awful, grinding, as yet unchanged sense that everything was now changed for the worse. I can still remember looking up at the fighter jets roaring over Manhattan, and the dust choking our lungs as we walked through streets empty of cars. The American story, as it was up to that point, had turned a page. Year after year, I’ve felt the same.
Being gone I still feel a pang, and maybe it’s even a little bit worse this year. I still remember the sense of violated privilege – we’re Americans, you assholes! How can you do this to US! We are New York. Suddenly I’m not part of that we anymore. It’s almost bizarre to think of the way I thought that somehow – even after my years of living in Russia amidst the cowardly terrorist attacks there – that America was above it all, and that New York should have been even further above it all. Well, wrong. We weren’t special, and I wasn’t special. Our country and city – like countless others – was nothing more than a victim.
So I don’t know how I feel. It’s been eight years, a long time in a lifespan. In the grand scheme of things, I’ll cynically say it’s not a statistically big deal. Natural disasters and wars have killed many, many more people than were killed on 9/11. But it’s still there in my memory, harsher and more real than Katrina or tsunamis or the Iraq war. I still remember walking near ground zero a few day after 9/11, covering my mouth, picking up trash, crying at “have you seen…” posters. I still remember the Salvation Army and the outpouring of help from every corner of the city. It’s not the kind of thing you’d set aside very easily, or quickly. It hurts me that it turned into such a sideshow under the ‘leadership’ of a cynical and devious child of privilege in the years afterward. It still hurts me that we don’t have a decent memorial to that day, too, despite politicians’ mewlings about making a proper tribute. Do it now.
Leave it at this: it was awful, nothing will ever make it less awful. I’m still sad about it and no doubt you are too. I don’t think I’ll spend a day for the rest of my life in early September without thinking of a clear, beautiful morning that started with such promise, and ended in such horror for so many. It’s still fitting to weep.
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne, Meditation XVII