We just passed the 17th anniversary of 9/11 and the horrors we all witnessed on TV and in person. As a native New Yorker now (and then) living in Los Angeles, the pictures on the TV were particularly painful as I watched my city under attack and wondered what this meant for the future. At one point my 18 month old son toddled into the room and found me watching TV in tears. He went over and closed the TV cabinet and said, “no more TV for anyone in this house,” which was fine as I didn’t want him to see it anyway
A year or so later I visited NYC and took a walk downtown to see the hole where the WTC towers once stood. Things were still fresh. Although most of the rubble had been removed from the site, the surrounding buildings were still boarded up or covered in scaffolding, and the fences nearby were covered with photos and words and posters dedicated to the victims. The area was very crowded as many people from all over the world circled or stood at the edge of the gaping opening in the ground, just looking. Despite the large crowds, the quiet was deafening.
I expected to cry again as I stood there and let it all wash over me. And I did, almost, and kind of wanted to, but then I found myself getting angry (I’m pretty good at anger) and had to calm myself down so I didn’t start screaming out loud “F#*K YOU YOU F%@ING BASTARDS!” and the like. I removed myself from the scene, passing yet more memorials to the dead and mostly still missing, and walked uptown to calm my nerves.
Seventeen years later, the anger remains below the surface. I’m sure people who lost loved ones still experience a lot of sadness. And anger. I didn’t know any victims personally. A few friends had close calls. One called in sick for a meeting at tower 2. One was late for work and didn’t go to get his usual Starbucks across the street from the Trade Center. But, for example, one close friend worked at Cantor Fitzgerald a few years before and knew several people who died.
This act of terrorism affected thousands of families directly and permanently. And the pain of a loss like that, so sudden and senseless, when so many die at once, maybe never completely goes away. It will remain a part of our history forever, a touchstone for many politicians talking about terror groups, countries that house terrorists, and immigration. It provides to some a “reason” to discriminate, despite facts and statistics that don’t back up the rhetoric.
I visited NYC this week, quickly. It was like a secret raid. Kiki and I didn’t go downtown to see the Freedom Tower, and the Occulus, whatever that is. (I know what it is, but have little use for that word outside of this). I couldn’t imagine the experience of looking at the building and the fountains and pools and memorials will have the impact of seeing those pictures of the rubble, the twisted pieces of the WTC that were so familiar to me from when I lived in The City, or looking at that hole in the ground when I visited. Maybe not, but it’s important to remember those who were lost no matter how we remember them.
Instead, we went to Central Park. You can’t go wrong with Central Park. Well, maybe at night. We found some paths we had never seen. We walked around. Under bridges. Over bridges. Over rocks. Around the Sheep Meadow. Averting our eyes at the Trump Ice Rink being prepared for winter use.
My new novel, Smoking In Bed, is set in Manhattan. There is one scene in the park that has the cityscape in the attached photo as a backdrop, a view west over The Lake from the Bow Bridge (built 1862, the longest bridge in the park). Smoking In Bed deals with dreams, the subconscious, love, death, fear and yes, terrorism. Okay so it’s a comedy, but still.
The events of 17 years ago changed the way people think, about the preciousness of life and the desperation of people so willing to take it from others. And also how we think about death. What happens? Do you believe in an afterlife? Do you believe in a “soul” or “energy” that makes a person who they are? It’s easy to imagine one person dying, their soul leaving the body, and going to some kind of “eternal rest,” or “heaven.” Let’s leave hell out of it for now. But what happens when so many people die at once? What happens to their souls? How do they get wherever it is they are going?
No doubt, we will never know the answer. But we can think about it, and hope that somehow, those people we lost found their way to a better place. And maybe they’ll make some new friends.
Smoking In Bed by Paul Kleiman is available on Amazon at:
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