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September 12th

September 12, 2011

I mostly avoided the wave of media attention around 9/11. At ten year’s distance, it’s still all too close for me. I noticed a visceral reluctance to go there, for fear of getting sucked back into the trauma and the grief.  When I finally watched Brian Williams last night cover  the memorial service at Ground Zero (a term which until that day had been reserved mostly for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if you recall) I wept for those who had lost their loved ones. But I think many of us were also weeping this past week for ourselves and what we lost that day, which was an innocence and a sense of invulnerability that up until then we didn’t even know we had.

And I remember how this city, badly bent but not broken, morphed overnight into the largest small town in America. A place of freaked out but connected townspeople who were suddenly no longer strangers to each other.

I remember us up on E. 34th Street cheering truckloads of first responders, filthy as they returned from downtown on their way back to Queens.

I recall a patient telling me of a taxi he and his girlfriend took that following week into Brooklyn that ran out of gas in the middle of the Manhattan Bridge. They bolted out of that cab and ran the rest of the way to Flatbush Avenue, certain that the police or National Guard would target the cab within a few minutes time. “A car stalled on a bridge here, in the middle of a war? I wasn’t about to stay and find out what was gonna happen!” It was that kind of atmosphere.

I recall downtown strewn with xeroxed signs on lampposts, always with a photograph and a name and the desperate words – “Last seen the morning of September 11th. If you’ve seen him, please contact ________”. And you knew every last one of those signs was posted in vain.

And perhaps you recall the internet ablaze with that big photo of the Statue of Liberty holding up a defiant middle finger, with the words ”We’re Coming, Motherfuckers!”

And here in Brooklyn, I think it was that Friday night, thousands of us pouring into 7th Avenue in a silent candle light vigil that turned into a slow procession to the firehouse on Union Street, where eleven men had never returned.

We all got through it, but you know this city and country isn’t past this. Because there are some things we still cannot think about. And until that time comes when we’re able and willing to contemplate what it was actually like that morning to have been stuck on one of the upper floors, and watch the plane come into the building right below you, and then soon to determine that the best thing to do was to grab the hand of an office mate and jump, we’ll not be fully done with 9/11.

And I remember watching this town change over the next couple of years, from a wounded and angry symbol that the rest of the country rallied around, proud to be New Yorkers and Americans and in full support of the President, into feeling that we were being used as the pretext to take the war not just to Afghanistan but further; used as the reason to limit our freedoms; and to re-elect a President who seemed increasingly alien and out of touch with our true nature as New Yorkers. 

But mostly, starting September 12th, I saw something else.  Our hearts had been broken but also opened. As time went by, I noticed, first with Shelley, and then with numerous other friends and family members, a fresh and urgent willingness to say something that had been always true but rarely spoken. Words tacked onto the end of our telephone conversations. For when hanging up with a loved one we no longer could — nor would — take for granted that we’d ever be speaking with them again. To this day, the primary way 9/11 changed many of us is when we say, “I love you” before hanging up that phone. 



And for this I can only be thankful. For this, I can truly say that if the terrorists’ goal was to demoralize us or damage who we are as a people, then they failed and failed miserably. They demonically took some of us away, but they opened the rest of us to each other in a way not seen before. And for this I am grateful to God and to what’s most decent and deep in you and in me.   


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana Slattery permalink
    September 12, 2011 4:25 pm

    Good words, much feeling. I was up in Albany, it was close enough. From this vantage point, I’d say about this:

    “I can truly say that if the terrorists’ goal was to demoralize us or damage who we are as a people, then they failed and failed miserably. ”

    I don’t agree. I think Osama bin Laden accomplished in spades exactly what he set out to do: ruin the US financially, and to do so in a completely symbolic and material way. Counting on the knee-jerk reaction to strike back, which we did in our traditional way, and, quite simply, bankrupted the country in exactly 10 years. Our almost-default coinciding with 9/11 perfectly. A great part of our people are thoroughly demoralized from no work and economic stress. Because ObL understood us, and our temperament and ways much better than we have understood his means of waging war, the sheer economy of the moves. Of course, we had to do it:

    “And perhaps you recall the internet ablaze with that big photo of the Statue of Liberty holding up a defiant middle finger, with the words ”We’re Coming, Motherfuckers!””

    Like watching the English soldiers at Lexington, marching in numbers in their bright red coats. Wrong tactic. But we were/are all ptsd. Homeland Security in every little hamlet. we don’t, as a voting public, understand how to fight such an enemy.

  2. dave abramowitz permalink
    September 12, 2011 8:17 pm

    I thought what you said, Charley, was profound and deeply, deeply heartfelt. It is perhaps difficult for others to fathom the idea that evil is permitted by God to exist because it is the price we all must pay to truly grow up, no matter what our society or socioeconomic system, and become truly adult, more awake and aware, seasoned and mature, and more compassionate and forgiving, too. As you basically said, 9/11 served to let us see what’s truly important, howrecious and awesome a gift life is, and how it can wake us up not to take life and love and each other for granted. We are her to love and know ourselves as love and as spirit, too. 9/11 also served to show us and emphasize how pathetic and cowardly and ignorant and senseless evil is. 9/11 hopefully will also wake us up to not just feel proud we are Americans but how precious ALL LIFE, all of humanity is, and these are no small insights if it can give us the insight how meaningful a life truly loving a larger truth can be.

  3. September 13, 2011 2:31 am

    I don’t think it takes a terrorist attack to make us appreciate one another or life itself. I think death no matter how it comes or just the risk of death can do that. In fact we are all much more likely to confront death in the form of cancer, heart disease, car accidents, etc. than by terrorist attacks.

    To me 9-11 is just one of a series of events that occurred since the internet bubble burst in 2000 that has shattered the inflated over-confidence Americans had in the 1990s, to the point where many of us are coming to the realization that we are living in a declining civilization — not unlike the decline of Rome.

  4. dave abramowitz permalink
    September 14, 2011 1:48 am

    Put your political belief systems and political analysis aside, Diane and Ed. 9-11 was a wake-up call to The Spirit, how precious life is, what we can do and are really capable of when we reach out to each other. 9-11 put life, itself and all our lives into perspective and for that we should be properly grateful. 9-11 also showed us how much greatness there is in us as a people and as Americans and how much strength is also in us. So many lives were changed because of 9-11 and great life-changing lessons were learned by all of us. Disasters in Japan or man-caused disasters in America can wake us to who we are in our innermost cores. The miracle is we can give life such meaning and turn any adversity into such a gift and reason to create goodness. Thank you, Charley, for indicating the larger meaning.

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