Eternal SummerAugust 13, 2011
The Field OfficeAugust 23, 2011
As I pen these words (and this particular blog is actually being drafted with a pen, to be typed up later at home), I am in Battery Park City—a place I like to visit when I’m feeling contemplative and need to be near a body of water. Specifically, I’m in the Winter Garden atrium, inside the air-conditioned World Financial Center building, sitting on the cool marble steps with my back propped against a tall black column, my face to the window and the marina, beyond.
Even though I come down here often, I purposely never pass ground zero on the way. Watching visitors pose for pictures and buy t-shirts and souvenirs makes me want to scream nasty, unwelcoming things. (Don’t they realize that this place is a cemetery, not the Grand Canyon, and should be approached respectfully, as you would any other graveyard?) Like most folks I know who lived through that day, I steer clear of conversations about 9/11, a subject that is usually broached by acquaintances who are not from here. After they find out that I grew up in New York City and was living and working here at the time, they are curious about my experiences.
It’s a fair question, and I do not fault them for it, but here’s the thing: Though it’s been nearly 10 years, I’m still not any closer to formulating a coherent response. I was working about 20 blocks away at the time, and though I know people who lost loved ones, and others who were in or near the towers that morning, I am fortunate enough not to be in either category, so I feel wrong claiming any residual anguish (though that never seems to stop the politicians or country singers who were thousands of miles away at the time, does it?).
I remember the panic I felt that day as I walked for three hours to get home—panic for myself, for everyone I love, for my city and country—but I also know that you could randomly point your finger at any date on the calendar, and it would be an anniversary of some tragedy or natural disaster for someone else, somewhere in the world.
Nonetheless, the ubiquity of life-altering events doesn’t make them any easier for individuals to process. As we approach this anniversary, I think about what there is to be said, and I still continue to search for the right words in my mind. Today, unexpectedly, I came up with one—here, in this spot where it all unfolded.
As I look up at the atrium dome, which serves as a backdrop for the incongruous palm trees that inhabit this space, I remember some of the photographs taken in 2001. One, in particular, showed the broken panes of glass and huge chunks of debris that had collapsed into a heap in front of the structure.
Today, that atrium is once again intact, the metal benches lined up in neat rows, seeming to buttress the palm trees. The tourists and natives alike weave through the open spaces between them. For a moment, you could be fooled into thinking that nothing bad had ever happened here.
Through the gang battles in Five Points and the struggles of immigrants to build new lives in this strange and foreign place. Through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that helped birth the labor movement. Through two world wars and Vietnam. Through the fiscal crises and “Ford to City: Drop Dead”. Through the crime wave of the 70s, the Son of Sam, and the Zodiac killer. Through the crack epidemic and the emergence of HIV. Through yuppies and hipsters. Through the first WTC attack in 1993. Through bear markets and bursting financial bubbles. Through 9/11.
New York City is, and has always been, a resilient place. Despite it all, it is still here. A crazy, chaotic, often maddening, yet inspiringly beautiful quilt of cultures, religions, races, and sexual orientations. Still standing—or, like the domed atrium above my head, standing once again.
Life is not the same as it was “before”, but it does go on.