Sunday, September 11, 2011


I haven’t been here long, but New York City, I think, is one of those places that you either love or hate, and it doesn’t take too long to decide your position. There’s something undeniably special about the city that is hard to put into words. Despite the insane housing prices, the eye-watering smell on garbage day, never ending traffic, and the evil known as toll roads, there’s just something about this place that makes me want to stay here forever. It’s sad to know that I never got a chance to meet this city before it lost its innocence. 

9/11 is different here, more real, less theoretical. For everyone here, whether you were here 10 years ago or not.

It's a different kind of loss, and a different kind of mourning, to live here now. To know that as I drive across the Pulaski Skyway, headed home from the hospital, with Manhattan's skyline in front of me, that I've never known that view the way it was meant to be. With the Twin Towers, the tallest in the bunch, watching over their shorter companions. 

I wasn't planning on going down to Ground Zero today, given the possible terrorist threat, but this year might be the only chance I have to be there for an anniversary and it just felt wrong to sit at home and read about it on CNN when I'm a 20 minute bus ride away. 

So I went. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting. More crying and less Asian tourists flashing the peace sign to their cameras, I guess. 

In high school, I went to the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial six or seven years after the bombing occurred. Even though I wasn't there on the anniversary of the event, the sense of loss was still palpable. 

But Ground Zero felt a little more like Times Square than a memorial. Leave it to America to turn the most devastating tragedy in its history, at least of this century, into a tourist trap. There were people everywhere selling red ribbons, and programs, a small American flags. The obligatory nut-jobs were there waving their end-of-the-world signs in the air and yelling about evils of a capitalist economy. And there were thousands of people posing for pictures in front of the new WTC building in between talking about where they're going for dinner and asking that fireman passing by if he'll pose with them.

And all I could think was, ''Ten years ago, thousands of people died here. Just a few hours ago, their families came and read their names aloud in remembrance and cried over their names etched into the new memorial. And across there street, behind the mesh fence, there is still a gaping hole in the Earth. How can you even smile, much less laugh here, today?"

I didn't stay very long at Ground Zero. I walked downtown toward the end of the island where Battery Park sits. Flags of Heroes, American Flags with the names of everyone who gave their lives on 9/11 making up the Stars and Stripes, were erected all over the park's grounds, one for each person who died. 3000 flags.

As I walked back to the WTC subway stop, I passed this Irish pub that, ten years ago, would have sat in the shadow of the Towers. Outside there were FDNY firemen (and women), all in uniform, milling around. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a class reunion, and it was obvious that for many of them, this is the only day of the year they get to see one another. The older generation of firemen, the ones who were most likely there that day were shepherding little clusters of younger guys who probably in middle school a decade ago. There was more celebration among the FDNY than there was a block away among the tourists. And here, unlike with the tourists, the mood felt right. Here, you get the sense that the right to smile and laugh has been hard won. Because life goes on. Even if a small part of all of us has been left ten years in the past. 

Walking past that pub was the most fitting book end to whole the day. It just felt right that a day that started in tears for what our country has lost, that was followed by unease of walking around Manhattan and seeing policemen carrying automatic weapons, ended with a display of human resiliency and hope. 

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