Three months after: A changed man
– Three months ago today, I survived the black cloud. I inhaled the pulverized, vaporized, terrorized remains of the World Trade Center and it changed me, fully and forever. Now, months later, I find that change in me is not diminished; it is deeper and wider. It will not leave me.
Of course, there are many for whom the change is far more painful and profound. Read these stories about the lives of widows and survivors — “the living remains” — in the Washington Post. Read this in yesterday’s New York Times about the spirit-numbing work at what used to be the World Trade Center. Next to these people, I am absolutely fine. I am extraordinarily lucky — blessed, even. Still, Sept. 11 changed me as it changed us all. But I can’t speak for you, only for myself. Now, with even the brief perspective of these few months, I am startled at all the differences in life:
First and foremost, there is, of course, my family. Every day when I leave for work and every night at bedtime, my children and I are obsessive about saying, “I love you.” That small act fills my heart, of course. But I also know that fear lies behind it. Safety is now constantly on our minds; when stories of anthrax and smallpox and nukes pile on, we feel powerless to guarantee our family’s security; we worry and then we wonder whether we’re nuts for worrying. Work is still work. But politics and pettiness are even harder to take now. Life is too damned short.
In politics, I’ve endured not just change but ideological whiplash. I was never politically correct but I was liberal and from youth I held fast to pacifism, which was my response to Vietnam, my belief that it had to be the right answer. But now our generation has faced our Hitler in bin Laden and we find a mortal and moral need to defend against evil. So I am now a former pacifist. I’m a goddamned hawk and delighted at the victories so far (what a great day for an al-Qaida surrender). I’m even wearing a tacky red, white, and blue pin on my lapel; I might as well be wearing it on my sleeve. I’m a goddamned patriot. Sometimes, I don’t recognize myself.
Religion — or rather, belief — has not changed for me. After the Holocaust, God was indicted for various crimes of neglect and sins of omission and each of us is His jury, acquitting Him or finding Him guilty or sentencing Him to death. I’m no surer about Him today than I was yesterday, just as confused. Yet in other aspects of religion, I have a much clearer focus now. More than ever, I see the dangers of fundamentalism. That, as I’ve said in these virtual pages, is what this war is really about.
The Web has changed for me, too. I’ve worked here for seven years now but thanks to the world of Weblogs, I’ve found a new dimension to it and met — albeit virtually — many smart people who are grappling with the same news and issues we all are. This weblog has allowed me to stay close to this story; that’s why I do it; I can’t get away from it.
A few days ago, I had to go downtown in Manhattan and so I decided to walk by the World Trade Center, retracing my steps on Sept. 11 once more, taking in the scene once again. But there was nothing to conclude from being there. It is now a gigantic hole in the city; Sept. 11 does not live on there. It lives on in the memories of the heroes and victims who died there. It lives on in the battle against evil, the battle to protect our families and our future. It lives on in the many changes in our lives — that is now Ground Zero.