Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ten Years Ago

I didn't know whether I would write or not write about that day in New York ten years ago, and the days that followed.  It seems that everything that could be said has been said, that everything that could be felt has been felt, and that some extraordinarily unimaginable things have somehow been imagined and realized.

But I was here, living in the same home, raising the same sons.  Everyone was younger, and we were smack in the middle of young family life.  It's impossible not to make the mental contrasts between those days and these, on a personal, emotional, political and global level.  As I said, though, many others have, many who are paid well to do so and, hence, do so much better than I ever could.  So I will stick to the personal.

What I noticed most on the 11th, on this tenth anniversary, was how seared into all my sensory memories those days are.  I can still smell the acrid smell that shifted to the north (toward my neighborhood) the next day after the first black smoke clouds initially blanketed Brooklyn to the east.  I can still hear the sirens that flew past, heading down Broadway, first growing louder, then dissipating in the downtown direction.  I also hear the roaring Air Force jets, and recall the visceral reactions and looks on others' faces in the streets and parks as we would experience them at the same moment and glance at one another in recognition and total ignorance.  I remember seeing everywhere the homemade posters and fliers tacked up on walls, fences and lamp posts, fluttering gently in late summer weather perfection...and the first big rain a couple of nights after, when I sat in bed believing that God must be crying over the failures of his final creation, man.  And then I cried, too.  I remember, too, the initial feelings of survival that kicked in, that I'd never felt before, that were driven by something deep inside - the need to buy food and water, just because we "live on an island," the need to make my way uptown to my sons' school, just because we need to be together.  

Most vivid and most painful, however, is when I told my children what had just happened when I picked them up early from elementary school and walked them home, shortly after the first tower collapsed.  (And in this, I am no different than probably ever other parent who experienced that day similarly, no matter where they lived.)  I knew that this event was going to change their young lives and become as indelible to them as the day Kennedy was assassinated was  to me when I was seven years old.  I took their hands and said, "You're going to remember this day for the rest of your life" before trying to simply, honestly and yet not too fearfully, explain in a few words what was happening, while I understood so little myself.

And yet, ten years later, we were on a transatlantic flight returning to New York from a family vacation.  No words were expressed, officially or otherwise, on the flight.  But we all knew.  I could tell when I would look into someone's eyes.  Awareness, gratitude, and perhaps a little fear.  Or maybe that was just me.  But, from airplane to a very busy JFK airport on a Sunday afternoon, to a full subway train back into Manhattan, all was quiet and purposeful.  We all went where we needed to be, and we all lived our moments, but I know we remembered and carried that with us, with all else that we carry now, ten years later.

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