On September 11th 2001, I arrived at the office at about 8:30. I pulled up IE (because I was still using IE back then) and my home page was NYTimes.com. Before the page could load I went and made the coffee for the office. When I got back to my desk I saw that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. At the time I thought it must have been a small craft piloted by a dope. I called my dad, who worked in Brooklyn with an office view of Manhattan.
“Dad the New York Times says that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
“What? (looking out the window) Oh my God it’s on fire!” And then the real fun began. I won’t go into the details-everyone has a story of what they were doing then and how it went down. Some of it was maddening some of it was (in hind-sight) comical a great deal was depressing.
I was not in New York City when the planes hit the towers. I was in Boston working at a soon to be dead dot com company. However, I am from Staten Island. Some of my neighbors growing up worked in that neighborhood or worked for companies with offices in the World Trade Center. I am happy to say that no one I know was injured or killed in the events of September 2001. I consider myself lucky in that. My sister biked by the World Trade Center on her way to early morning baking school an hour or two before the fun started.
I am a graduate of Stuyvesant High School. The school moved from 15th street to Chambers street my senior year. Coincidentally that was the year that someone first tried to blow up the World Trade Center. I’ve worked at Century 21 on Chambers Street and at The Strand Annex on Fulton Street (now defunct). When I worked at the Strand I used to eat my lunch at the plaza between the towers.
I mention all of these things to fend off anyone who says “But you don’t know what it was like!” Or “but you don’t know how they feel!”
It is now 9 years later. It is 2010. There is still a big gaping hole in downtown Manhattan-in a neighborhood I know well and for which I have much affection. I am very angry that there is still a big hole there. But the fact that the hole is still there is part and parcel of how the United States of America has dealt with the things that happened to us in September 2001.
It’s not like tragedy has never struck New York City before. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 killed 146 people-mostly young women. The General Slocum Steam Ship went down in 1904 and killed over a thousand people-most of them women and children. It was the biggest tragedy (in terms of loss of life) until September of 2001. But neither of these tragedies were by design.
The US is a relatively young nation, which might excuse some of the nine year long temper tantrum we have thrown-but not much. My initial response to the events was something along the lines of “well yes it was bound to happen eventually.” And “The US should do more good in the world-if we are the world’s policeman than we should also do more good works. Then people wouldn’t hate us as much and be so interested in killing us.” Obviously, not everyone in the US thinks as I do. Instead of showing the world (the “Arab Street” in particular) that we are good people we have thrown two wars neither of which has resulted in us finding the people who blew a big honking hole in my hometown or generally improving the state of the world or our standing as a nation.
I am an existentialist. I believe in defining people by what they do. We were attacked by people we knew hated us. I am ashamed at our response. We now torture people. We now have an official surveillance state. We have warrentless wire tapping and we now allow law enforcement agents to blow down doors instead of knocking politely. There are “Transit Police” in Back Bay Station with dogs who look more like National Guardsmen than MBTA Cops. These men make me afraid.
George W Bush said that these people attacked us because they “hate our freedom.” Instead of proving that we are still a place where everyone is free to worship as they please, we now have nut-jobs railing against the “Ground Zero Mosque” which is not a mosque and is not at Ground Zero. If these people attacked us because they hate our freedom shouldn’t the proper response be to continue to offer freedom?
I was really hoping that by now instead of great gaping hole we’d have started to build something in lower Manhattan. I know there are tons of complications (who owns the land, the Widows, etc.) but I was really hoping that by now there would be something huge (and probably hideous-the more ostentatious the better) being constructed. Something that said to the people who knocked us down “We’re Still Americans-We Rebuild!” Instead we have become scared and less free. I am angry with us and ashamed at us for settling for this.
This was not what I intended to write tonight. I intended to point out that the best thing you can do for the dead is keep living your life-instead of always looking backward at them. The best thing that you can do to prove to the terrorists that they have not impacted your life-they have not “won”- is to go about your life and continue to grow and change.
I was having a discussion with my eldest nephew about the US Government and “Bad Guys” (he is 5) when half way through the discussion it occurred to me that he wasn’t even conceived in 2001 so he didn’t know about all that madness. He is a bright sturdy lad who likes Star Wars, sharks and dinasaurs. In him and his brother and sister I place my hope. For them “September 11” means nothing yet. They are good things that have happened since that date and they give me hope that we will get over this.