New York is flat today. A layer of gray clouds and gray mist hover just above the skyscrapers and sitting in my office, 16 floors up, I can’t see the East River or the Hudson. Manhattan is bound by cloud-walls the color of dirty snow.
My thoughts turn to those in the city who are having a lonely day today. I was living in the Midwest in 2001, and when the first plane hit I was in fourth period, Mr. Berry’s Public Speaking and Presentation class, which was held in my high school’s decrepit auditorium. Backstage often smelled of the new lumber, tangy and sharp, used to build sets; the seats gave off a different smell – of wood past it’s prime, deteriorating from too many years of hefty Illinois backsides squeezed in to watch an out-of-tune version of Our Town or The Music Man.
Mr. Berry called us into his office, saying, “A plane just crashed in New York City. It hit the World Trade Center.” I remember thinking, “This can’t be an accident.” My father was a few logged hours away from getting his instrument rating as a private pilot (like a “pro” certification for pilots of small planes) and I had recently been flying with him, watching him negotiate the intricate procedures designed to make sure planes never hit other planes, buildings. anything. A trained pilot would never hit a building unless he was impaired. I watched smoke hemmoraging out of the first tower and thought, this is intentional.
9/11 was, for years, remote in my mind. It was a complex question of politics, radical Islam, Bush abuses, civil liberties, and foreign relations. I thought about it in abstracts. Partly, I wasn’t able to grasp the enormity of it’s impact on our country. Partly, I simply didn’t have a face, a personal relationship, to connect to New York or the towers.
But I live in the city now, and a visceral sense of the thing has been creeping up on me slowly. It is present in the city in a thousand small ways: the postcard of the WTC taped to my landlord’s door – his miniature memorial. The posters at construction sites and the ads in the subway about Ground Zero responders who are sick and not getting medical attention. A friend or roommate who has a story of loss or a close call (“My friend’s mom was supposed to be on the Boston flight, but she got the flu.”) New York is big and fast and cold, but the sheer scale and business of the place cannot cover over such a loss. Nor should it. Today, I’m thinking about loss – what was lost in the attacks and in our clumsy response to them.
My admiration goes out to real New Yorkers (not transplants like me), who are grumpy, pushy, kind, and not making a fuss that it’s September 11, 2007. No Fox News drum beating or CNN tableaus here. The L train is slow today and the office is dreary. It’s business as usual in the city.