|A couple of neighborhood friends return from the garden with me. One, Kevin (no relation to the one I saw the night before), has his five-year old daughter Ruby in tow who quickly gets to playing with Campbell. Kevin runs an independent record label. At least he did. It was funded from overseas. It took a pounding from a general sell-off on the German stock market. A few days before the world changed, he was told to lay off his staff. The label exists now only as a shell. Income from the records already out there is being sent straight back to the European HQ. That's globalization for you.
I express to Kevin my feeling of being "violated" by the attack. He disagrees. He describes us as "incidental" to a greater war being fought between U.S. Foreign policy and the Islamic extreme and seems to be taking the guilty line I am hearing so often that concludes how we brought this upon ourselves. I refuse to accept that guilt. I state that I see the whole world's foreign - and domestic - policies as leading us here. Was it not Soviet Foreign Policy that led to that country's invasion of Afghanistan in the first place? Was it not Iraqi foreign policy that led to that country's invasion of Kuwait? And what about the domestic policy of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, who thought he had free reign to murder Muslims from the break-away states? Was the west in general, the USA in particular, meant to stand back on all these occasions and simply allow history to take its course? No. I would be the first to recognize the appalling short-term decisions of U.S. Foreign policy, but I also refuse to accept that two wrongs make a right. And I can feel that just as my initial shock has turned to grief, so my grief is now turning to anger. I can make no apologies for feeling that way. I can only promise that I will strive to keep my anger properly directed.
More guests arrive. And all of them have a story to tell. Jill was driving across the Brooklyn Bridge to work when she saw the second plane hit. Paul was on a subway atop the Manhattan Bridge, watching the fire from the first plane through his binoculars when the second plane hit; he saw bodies falling from the sky. Neil was on his way to the airport for a flight, got stuck in his car the whole day. Jon and Ronnye conveniently slept through it, but they are no less affected: Jon, the breadwinner, works for a printing firm below Canal Street that pays by the hour, and nobody was paid from Tuesday through Thursday of that week. Bryan seems unaffected; he might be masking it. Kevin's landlord and downstairs neighbor has not returned home since that Tuesday. Turns out he was a lawyer, working in one of the towers. He leaves behind two kids. Kevin never really got to know him. Now he never will.
|On a grey day, you can almost pretend they're still out there somewhere. The Promenade at Brooklyn Heights, two weeks later.
Our neighbor Celestine shows up, full of fiery character and wry humor as always. She starts by blaming herself for the attack: it had always been said that the day she showed up for work on time, hell would freeze over. She showed up on time for work that morning. She bemoans how the attack devastated the American Express offices, but left our balances on our credit cards intact, and we all laugh. Then she tells us that a father we know by sight if not by name from the street corner died in the attack, and we fall silent. Campbell and Ruby relieve us. They inform us they are playing "Master and Slave" up in Campbell's bedroom. We crack up. We start hitting the wine. Heavily. We start playing music. Loudly. We break up at two in the morning to a sing along of Echo and the Bunnymen's 'Ocean Rain.' It helps.
Sunday - the 23rd, now - is another day. Another beautiful late summer New York day. With the exception of a twelve-hour stretch of heavy rain at the peak of the rescue efforts, this has been such a perfect run of weather, which somehow only makes the events seem more surral. I want to catch up on my reading. I have been buying the New York Times every day since the attack that I could find it but don't seem to get the opportunity to read it. There's so much information to digest, so much extra media being pumped at us from all quarters. So I leave different sections of different days' papers in the bathroom, on the sofa, on my desk, on the bed. I get my fix of horror in short little snippets all day long.
This morning then, when Campbell goes for his swimming lesson, I sit and read 'The Week In Review' from cover to cover, yet the only thing I learn for certain is that rumors are running rampant. I go on line to unearth some of them for myself, courtesy of the heavily researched and informative snopes2.com. Kevin told us the night before that he heard the CNN pictures of Palestinians dancing in the streets were old, stock footage. Not so says the web site. Posie tells me Nostradamus predicted all this. Snopes points out how easily history can be made to fit vague poetry, and how much of Nostradamus' original prediction has been rewritten by people to suit their needs as it crosses the net. Still, at least one ugly rumor turns out to be true. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did indeed say on television that New York got what it deserved for harboring abortionists, gays, lesbians, feminists and civil libertarians. We New Yorkers used to take comfort in being considered America's outcasts, and it's been oddly disconcerting to feel the outpouring of love from across the nation these past ten days. It's perversely reassuring then to know that the religious lunatics still hate us. The Christian ones, I mean.
In the afternoon, I take Campbell to a birthday party. All the parents want to talk about how our kids are doing in first grade, but some of us keep coming back to events in hand. One friend, Marsha. tells me that I sound like her husband, Michael, who also works from home and has, she says, been "obsessing" this past week. Campbell's friend Ruby is here, with his mother Kristin, who spent last night out in the wilds of Pennsylvania staying with a friend. She admits to having a hangover from hell. She needed to get out of the city and get drunk, she says. I know how she feels. She says she has cried every day since September 11 and I know how she feels. She says how she now appreciates the smaller things in life, and I know tens of millions of people know how she feels. I have only just finished reading a story in today's paper about how family rifts are being healed, ex-lovers are talking again, friends who dropped each other are once again enquiring about each other. I can vouch for all three. The Times story also points out how most of these reconciliations are being initiated from people outside New York and directed at those of us inside, and how draining this is for those of us who live here. I can vouch for that too - though I don't begrudge it. Life's too short.
On the drive home from the birthday party, we pass a fire station. It's surrounded by flowers and candles and cards and paintings, as is every fire station in the city. I don't know how many men they lost, but I pull down my window and shout to the fireman sitting out front, "Thanks for everything you've done." He nods and waves politely. He's heard it a lot these past ten days, I know. I just hope he's still hearing it in ten years.
|Just some of the mementos outside Squad Co. 1 in Park Slope, which lost twelve brave men: flowers in the shape of a fire truck, a list of missing names, and that of one whose body has been found and can 'rest in peace', pictures of the men in happier times, a drawing of an angel to watch over them, flowers against the wall. Not shown: the condolence books, the childrens' cards, the posters, the letters, the donations (financial for the deceased's families, baked goods for the survivors), the sidewalk filled with candles and flowers. Also not shown: the tears of passers-by.
Campbell seizes the opportunity to tell me about two dreams he has had, a good one and a bad one. In the good one, he sees the helmets of firefighters and there are lots of words written about the ones who died. He can't remember the words, but they are nice words. In the other dream, the bad one, he is being chased by a monster through the house, but when he comes downstairs I'm there and I tell him I'll protect him. He doesn't see the monster again.
We get home as the Interfaith Service at Yankee Stadium - hastily organized once the FBI ruled out the peoples' will to gather in Central Park as posing too great a safety issue - is winding up. Posie has it broadcasting from both TV and radio while she paints, and it's obvious she's been crying. Again. I feel relieved that I've been with a happy-go-lucky six year old this past couple of hours. The little kids understand what has happened, and they are upset about it, but they are too young to fully understand death, and so they don't feel the pain. How fortunate for them.
Following dinner, Posie and I decide we can finally, after twelve days, cope with the idea of watching a movie. We look through the various videos we've been hoarding and settle on Until The End Of The World. I know the title is too close to home, but I also know that being a Wim Wenders movie, it will possess a certain beauty. And it does. The plot involves an Indian nuclear satellite out of control in the atmosphere. Eventually the Americans shoot it down. Our cast is in the Australian outback at the time. All radios, watches, airplane engines cease, and they have to figure out whether the world has actually ended or not. Posie falls asleep before the film finishes. I can hardly blame her. It's been such a long, tiring, draining week and we are all constantly in need of recuperation.
I turn off the movie, try reading more of the paper. It's unbearably tragic. Especially the absolute lack of survivors in the face of such superhuman determination to find them. The volunteer effort, which galvanized both our city and much of the country outside, seems sadly as if for nothing. Even for my own part, I had committed Thursday morning to co-ordinating local volunteer efforts, but I was called off on Wednesday evening. The city had everything covered that it needed. I put down the paper and watch the television. One of the few TV commentators and pundits I respect, is interviewing Rudy Giuliani live - here on a Sunday night, when the Mayor too should be getting his rest. At the end of the interview, the interviewer leans forward and drops his professional guise to become a fellow New Yorker. "I love this city, my son was born here," he says, and then he thanks Rudy for his amazing leadership these last few days. They shake hands. Rudy's eyes well up. It's amazing he hasn't cried in public more often. And good for us that he hasn't, too.
I flick channels. The Interfaith Service from Yankee Stadium (they decided not to call it a Memorial) is being repeated. By now I've had a couple of glasses of wine, I'm tired and emotional, I know I'm ready for some final tears of the weekend, and I even know from earlier reports what will inspire them. I sit through Placido Domingo singing 'Ave Maria,' I sit through the prayers from leaders of different faiths - Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Moslem - proud that New York can bring all these religions together like this, that the condemnation is so emphatic from all quarters. I sit through Rudy Giuliani's speech. I sit through much of the beautiful singing from the Harlem Boy's Choir. But then they start on 'We Shall Overcome,' and upon the line "We'll go hand in hand," people instinctively start reaching for other. On the podium, Rudy reaches for the hands of his new best friend, New York Governor George Pataki, and in the stands, strangers reach for their neighbors, join hands, climb to the feet and . . . Those that can, sing. Those that can't, cry. Those can manage neither barely hold on. A soloist takes a lead above the choir - his composure as perfect as his voice - and I find myself shedding buckets of tears. In this song and in its beautiful performance, are hidden so many different messages: America's troubled internal past, its reconciliation with that past, its ongoing belief in itself, the understanding that that belief has been shattered, and yet a persistent hope for the future, for a better world.
The song finishes. I look at the clock. It is midnight. The end of the weekend. I need my bed. Tomorrow is Monday. But a return to normality? No. The hurt is so visible, so tangible. We're grieving, we're in pain. But we've started to share that pain, and that will ultimately help us heal. Yet as I go downstairs and face the horrible thought that tomorrow morning is but the start of another week of all this, I realize how I don't want to return to normality. The world has changed, and it should never go back to what it was. There has been so much good come out of this - though nothing, of course, that excused the taking of human lives - and I want that good to remain with us for always.
I want us to care for our neighbors. I want us to drop what we're doing when there's trouble and help out strangers. I want us to love our policeman and to hug our firemen. I want us to respect our mayor, and for him to respect us too. I want us to be this involved in local issues, knowing that we can make a difference; I want us to remain interested in foreign affairs, knowing that there too we can make a difference if we acquaint ourselves with the facts and demand our voices be heard. I want New York City to be the envy of the world again. I want Americans of all denominations and colors to take pride in their nation without practicing nationalism. I want a President that understands the potential price of blind military retaliation and refrains from it. I want to keep feeling the strength that comes from repeating simple phrases such as We Shall Overcome, and United We Stand. It's just that I don't want this.
PART 1: MY OWN THOUGHTS
PART 2: MESSAGES FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY OVERSEAS
and REACTIONS TO THIS ESSAY
PART 3: THE OBSERVATIONS AND QUOTATIONS OF OTHERS.
PART 4: LINKS