Six months after: The lights
: You can see the beautiful lights live on my site, NJ.com.
Six months after: Today
: I certainly didn’t plan it this way but I left my PATH train this morning at the exact minute I left it six months ago today. I was glad to get off.
Some people at work were affected by the day, others unaffected.
I went back to the World Trade Center and regretted it. I wanted to stand where I stood. I refused to stare. It was empty. Tourists took pictures of empty. They posed in front of empty. They stared at empty.
Six months after
: This is an important date for me. I believe six months is just long enough to begin to give us perspective on the events of September 11th and on its impact on life. It is time to make decisions.
So I have written a great deal today looking back and looking ahead:
: The terrorists have lost if….
: The city
: The senses
: The show
: A sermon
Please do read on.
Six months after: The terrorists have lost if…
: The most laughable cliche of September 11th is, of course, “The terrorists have won if…”
Now, six months later, it is time to turn the cliche on its head and ask whether the terrorists have lost.
The terrorists have lost…
…if the American economy they sought to cripple could recover. Well, only six months later, our economy has recovered so robustly that even the King of curmudgeons, Alan Greenspan, is impressed. The Dow Jones average is bigger than it was then. The economy is growing.
…if they have failed to leave us weakened, drained, divided, and demoralized. In fact, we are stronger and more united than we have been in generations.
…if they could not rile Islam into a holy jihad against the West, capitalism, Christianity, and Judiasm. There is no jihad. None.
…if they cannot even keep Muslim nations around the world as their allies and our enemies. Today, those nations are our allies.
…if they could not overthrow the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. No change there.
…if they have lost control of Afghanistan. They certainly have. Afghanistan is now our ally.
…if the world now treats their people with suspicion. We do.
…if there is peace in the Middle East. Even though the war there is burning terribly hot right now, we can also see steps toward peace from Israel and Saudi Arabia, from all over these holy lands.This could go either way but I have to believe that the world cannot allow full-scale war there.
…if they bring attack and defeat on their extremist, fanatic, fundamentalist, fascistic friends in other countries. That day is coming quickly.
…if they are the objects of ridicule and hatred. They are that.
…if they are dead or hiding or sitting in our cells. All of them are.
…if the dead ones now sit in hell, the shame of Allah. Amen.
The terrorists have lost. Period. We have not finished winning yet. But they have assuredly lost.
Six months after: The City
: Walking through New York the other day, I tried to remember the city Before.
In the days after the attacks of Sept. 11, I had trouble remembering the minutes and hours just before it all happened; it took me weeks to reassemble my memories of that last PATH train ride: was I standing, what faces did I take in, what was I reading, what was I overhearing, what was I worried about?
Today, I have similar trouble reconstructing my sense of New York City before Sept. 11 so I can ask and answer how the city is different now.
The city is different. No, it’s no longer as different as it was in the days immediately after our tragedy. You don’t run into acts of unusual kindness and politeness every day; you don’t see people going out of their way to pay deference to cops and fire fighters quite so readily; you don’t run into random tears.
Still, New York is changed: sadder, more somber, quieter, less angry, less swaggering, a bit stooped, changed.
It’s as if New York City water has been injected with an antidepressant that’s only half-working on us.
I wondered whether the changes would be permanent. I’m coming to think they are.
I wondered, too, about other cities that have suffered trauma and whether they ever managed to erase the memories: Oklahoma City, Belfast, Beirut, London, Dresden.
As I thought about this, I realized that the model for New York is — or should be — Berlin. I’ve long loved Berlin — which, I know, sounds like either an oxymoron or a suspect political sentiment. But stick with me: When it comes to German cities, Munich, in contrast, is pretty but scary in its prettiness; Munich erased every bit of its damage, as if to say, “Trouble, what trouble? Nazis, what Nazis?”
Berlin, on the other hand, lets its history hang out: All over town, there are pockmarks from World War II’s bullets; destruction was preserved for memorials and, until lately, destroyed buildings even hugged the Berlin Wall; infamous headquarters also still stand, put to new uses; pieces of the Wall are here and there; horrid Communist housing lines the landscape; the cities vast rebuilt areas imply what used to be there and was destroyed in this society’s suicide.
Berlin admits its past and its trouble and then says, “Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let’s live.”
Berliners are like that: as self-deprecating as Germans get; wry; honest; direct.
And that is a role New Yorkers will play well. I think we need to wear our scars so we can get past them. Yes, we were attacked. Yes, we’re a little scared now. Yes, we’ve lost some of our strut (at the same time we have gained a new, defiant pride). Yes, you’d never think you could call us this, but we are victims. Yes, we know there’s no way to look at our city now without seeing what it no longer there.
Fine. And now let’s move on. Let’s live.
Six months after: Senses
: “It feels like you’re being buried alive,” said the lead to Caryn James’ NY Times review of the CBS 9.11 show (below). “You’re on the ground, gray ash falling everywhere, as if it were being shoveled over you, and you can hear debris rattling on a car overhead, dropping like hail.” Yes, this is what it was like.
September 11′s memories have all been in images since that day: photos and video and memories that live in the minds of the witnesses and not on film.
But after reading James’ lead — and before seeing the show — new memories came back to me, memories of the other senses.
September 11 also had sound. I heard the terrible roar of a jet approaching the second tower. I heard the gigantic, terrifying woosh of the fireball that engulfed the tops of both towers; it sounded like more than a jet, like a rocket. And when the south tower collapsed, that, too, sounded like a jet as the debris rushed on at 50 mph: heavy, fast air. The screams then were the worst. And through it all and through the rest of the day, the sirens would not end.
September 11 had a smell. It smelled like electricity gone wrong: a gigantic mixer motor that burns out and pfffts and crackles and fills the air with a small that defines acrid. The city smelled like that for days and weeks afterward, whenever the cloud of smoke came your way.
September 11 had a taste. The debris that I swallowed and breathed had a disgusting flavor, like chewing on rocks and walls. It made you want to wretch.
September 11 had a feeling. I felt small, light hunks of the building hitting me in the back as I ran away. I felt the first wave of debris: light, ethereal, fibrous, probably burned insulation and carpets and such. The next wave was of stone and walls, hard things pulverized. I felt it on my skin all day, tiny but terribly sharp; rubbing it scraped the skin.
September 11 attacked every sense.
Now, September 11 is memory.
Six months after: 9.11, the show
: It is a sentiment I’ve had more than once since September 11 as I wonder about the chance that brought me to the World Trade Center as the attacks began and brought me to write about everything that has followed here.
In the CBS 9.11 show, filmmaker Jules Naudet said it: “That day, we were chosen to be the witness.”
The Naudet brothers, Jules and Gedeon, were amazing witnesses, keeping their cameras rolling as hell erupted.
Tonight, now that I have seen their superb show, I am grateful they were there, for they captured the day: the dust, the debris, the darkness, the sound of death as it falls, the roar of utter destruction, the silence that follows, the fear, the courage, the choking cough, the closeness of death, the disbelief and gratitude of survival.
They will help us remember.