We made it to the doctor's waiting room, and stared at the television, showing us the tower burning. The second plane hit, and NYU suddenly was filling with cops, and preparing to take casualties. As we absorbed the news, we suddenly turned to getting back across town and collecting a child. We found a payphone and called the center, "Yes, we need all the kids picked up, as soon as possible." We started south, on foot, as Sirens howled, and then, heard and saw fighters the sky. every block or two, more news hit us and the smoke streaming up grew darker. I randomly tried to get a dial tone, to tell our parents where we were, and, much worse, to try and contact my friend who worked on the 80th floor of one of the towers.
As we were in the low 20s, about to turn West, there was this low rumble. For a moment, we thought it was another set of fighters, low and slow, but we couldn't see them, a moment later, someone came running out of a building screaming "it fell down."
For a second, nobody could make sense of what he was saying, and finally someone asked, "What fell down?" and the guy said, "The whole tower fell down."
Around then, something impossible happened. A cab, empty, appeared in front of us. We flagged it, stepped in, and in what seemed like an instant, were in front of Samantha's child care.
Somewhere, in there, the second tower fell, lost in the chaos, and the drumbeat of news. Somewhere in there, we heard about the Pentagon.
Child in hand, our cab turned us north, on the west edge of Manhattan, slogging through almost gridlock traffic, as ever minute more fire, and police and rescue equipment poured south. Out of the chaos, in the mid 40s, two guys, in suits, gray with soot and dust emerged begging for a seat going north. They had been dumped by a ferry boat on a pier, and were trying to get home. we sat and tried to make sense of the day with them, crammed into the cab, creeping north. As we sat, we managed to pry call out of the shredded fabric of cell service and let our parents know we were fine. Eventually, the streets simply stopped. From the mid 50s, we walked, pushing a puzzled child in the stroller, and watching the plume of smoke grow taller.
When we finally walked in the door at home, the second impossible thing happened. I punched my friend's home number into my cell phone again, and it picked up. More impossibly, he answered. Having, on a whim, taken a day off to enjoy the first perfect cool day of fall, he was standing on the roof of his building in Brooklyn, watching the shredded bits of papers from offices in his building land at his feet.
In the stunned confusion of the afternoon, one memory stands out. Standing in our playground. It was full, Kids of all ages, out of school, home from daycare, running, and making the happy noise of children. Parents stood in small circles, talking in hushed voices, and listening to radios.
The weeks that followed were full of horror, hope, and for a short moment, a sense of unity. The world lit candles, offered words of sorrow, outrage, prayer and hope. As I sit here, looking back, that hope, those moments, when we were able to stand as one, seem like a fading chimera. I feel anger, twinned anger.
I am still angry and appalled that there were people so filled with rage that the could fly airplanes into buildings. But, I am almost as angry and appalled that we lost that moment. I wrote some words, on September 12th, 2001 which I am going to quote here:
"Some people say everything has changed. And yet, it must not. Yes, we have been
shockingly shown the depth of hatred our nation inspires in some people. Yes, we have been reminded of some of the deep vulnerabilities in our modern world. But we must also dig deeply into our sense of who we are.
We are a free society, a society of tolerance, of ideals and of hope. As we move to identify those who have committed this horrific act, and perhaps more
importantly, those who inspired and funded it, we must not let them turn us away from the very ideals they are attacking. And when we have identified these people,
and move to punish them, once again, we must not turn away from our ideals, for that in the end would be a defeat as great as any these people could inflict on us.
We must be sure our punishment is swift, sure, but above all, just, and fair.
In the weeks and months ahead, nothing will send a clearer signal to these people than if we move forward, with purpose, with intent, but above all, without
abandoning our sense of who we are, and what we stand for."
I stare at those words, and feel a cold sense of loss.
Ches has a rule, posts have pictures. For a moment, I thought I had no picture for this post. But, I do. It may seem odd. But, I think, that our ability to save these precious bits of glass, across the ages, gives me hope. From the Cluny Museum in Paris, precious things saved: