MUSING ON MARCH 11
March 11 was a tough day. It had seemed with Christmas and new year - and, to be blunt, with the routing of the Taliban and much of Al Qaeda - that we in New York had turned a corner, better able to look ahead to the future. But not so fast. Firstly, intense battles in Afghanistan demonstrated that Al Qaeda were more than willing to fight to the death in the hope of taking Americans out with them, and then the six-month anniversary came along, a chance to take stock, to reflect, to remember.
I didnt watch the CBS documentary on Sunday night; I didnt want the nightmares. Taped it instead and watched the brilliant Six Foot Under in the meantime. (Does Britain have this show yet, and if not, why not? A nation that grooves to the Sopranos, Sex in the City and Friends should have no problem identifying with this most superbly characterized of dysfunctional families.)
Monday morning, a brilliant blue sky just like six months ago, only frigid this time, not the Indian summers day of then. A memorial in Battery Park City, a new mayor who is understated, calm, collected and says all the right things about New York and America; a memorial in DC, a President who is rightly still seething and yet wants to do more to stop it happening again than may be possible without taking us all into endless global conflict; a memorial in Pennsylvania for those brave passengers who truly understood the meaning of human sacrifice but Im not watching that one, Im stopping by my two local fire stations, lighting a candle, saying thanks to the guys again. One of them who spends his every weekend at the Pile talks of finishing the job there soon, and perhaps then finding closure. Me, I dont think were ever going to get it, nor do I think we should. Your father dies of natural causes, you grieve and you rage, but eventually you come to accept it, you close the book on his life and maintain the memory instead. But September 11 was not natural, and the grief and rage will never be accepted; the book should never be closed, and the memories should be, must be maintained for generations.
Dusk time and the pillars of light from downtown Manhattan. Viewed from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where I stood in silence the morning of September 12 staring in suspended horror at the smoke cloud as it drifted my way, the pillars appear singular; we must be viewing them side on. But they are still majestic. They are so simple yet so totally sublime. They offer reverence and reference for the two physical columns that once reached likewise high into the sky; they are seeking and searching for something that is no longer there; and they serve too as warnings and watchdogs too, a notice to all we will not be caught at ease like this ever again.
Nighttime and the documentary, assembled around the footage of those two young French brothers whose plan to follow the nine-month progress of a Probie fireman in downtown Manhattan found them, just three months in to the project, witness to the greatest firestorm of New Yorks history - inside Tower 1 that terrible morning. Oddly enough, not too much of what I see either shocks me or upsets me - perhaps because I have ingested so much by way of awful detail these last few months, maybe because the video has been edited for some kind of family consumption; and also because the novice film makers have too much sympathy for the dead to film them as they die. Instead, the greatest horror we are witnessed to is not visual, but purely audio: the ghastly crash, like a glass house being crushed by a tank, as human bodies, having leapt to their deaths from 80-100 floors high, hit the ground at unfathomable velocity. That I will never forget; those who witnessed that deadly disintegration firsthand must still be living it every waking day - and barely sleeping night.
March 12 seems like just another day: cold, cloudy, somewhere between winter and spring. A humdrum Tuesday. New York life goes on. As it must. We continue to live our lives as best we can, proving daily by our hectic but generally peaceful co existence in this most pluralist, multi-cultural and multi-racial of all great cities that we are not the problem. Never were. Come next September, well be six months further along and whatever greater mess the world is, those of us here will need to relive it all over again. And so the cycle goes. Closure is but a concept.
Tony Fletcher March 12, 2002
MUSING ON A SEPTEMBER MOURNING
MESSAGES FROM FRIENDS OVERSEAS ON SEP 11.
REACTIONS TO THE ORIGINAL ESSAY
COPING (Posted Oct 2 2001)
A THANKSGIVING TOAST (Posted Nov 2001)
MUSING ON MARCH 11 (Posted March 12 2002)
THE MANHATTAN 'EDGE': WILL THE ISLAND EVER AGAIN BE A CULTURAL GROUND ZERO? (Posted Feb 2002)