I wasn’t on the spot and didn’t lose family or friends on 9/11.
I had the more general experience of most New Yorkers—the raw shock, the stubborn disbelief, and the sense of impending doom that lingered and lingers still, no matter deeply it sinks into the subconscious.
From that day and the days afterward, two things I find myself recalling…
…It was such a beautiful day, September 11th, 2001… Absolutely perfect weather…The leaves in the park still mostly green or just beginning to turn; the sky a pure, clear blue and the air as fresh as it ever gets in the city. The sun was shining but it wasn’t hot; more a mellow warmth. There was—a rare thing in the city—a feeling of benevolence that surrounded and infused everything.
It was in the midst of this clear, calm and beautiful day that murder and chaos erupted—literally, from out of the blue.
…We all have our ways of coping/adjusting to such traumas and tragedies. I was always, and, unfortunately, still am, the pessimistic type; expecting the worse (and of course, expecting it, I often get just what I expect). However, my innate negativity aside, I believe that the events of 9/11 have given even the most optimistic among us a permanent sense that no peace and simplicity exists without the possibility that it might suddenly be shattered.
You could look at this in two ways (which actually seem the same)— One should be cautious at all times for the END IS NEAR. Invest nothing because it will all turn to shit in an instant— OR, just because the end could be near, its best to live every minute with an enthusiastic, active appreciation of life.
New York—and I suppose I mean Manhattan—always seems to be running at top speed; as if it were a car with its gas pedal stuck to the floor and its brakes burned out. The mechanism is always turned on; oiled daily with money and madness, it keeps going—the needle flickering dangerously in the red zone and the machine always threatening to overheat and explode.
There is never a pause—not a general, overall pause. Sometimes parts of the city are relatively (but probably deceptively) quiet; sections seem to tamp down a bit while others are revving up to the max.
But in the days following 9/11, before the shock had worn off and the full extent of the tragedy had been realized, there was, for the only time I remember, a complete cessation of the usual running, yelling, getting and spending. It was if some giant hand had pressed the big, universal PAUSE button.
Manhattan was quiet. People spoke in whispers or hardly at all. The buses and trains were down and there were few cars in the streets. People behaved as if (which, in fact, was the case) there had been a death in the immediate family. Our house needed to be, for once, at peace, so we could digest what had happened to us and collectively provide some solace to each other.
Surely it’s perverse to say I miss the feeling of those few days after the towers came down, but never-the-less, I am saying it—And asking the question: Do we need to have an overwhelming tragedy to lower the tempo of madness and materialism that is the permanent infection in the bones and blood of this city?
Well, every place has its particular personality—its Feng Shui.
I guess New York will always be the jumping, roiling, revved-up place it’s always been (at least since the Europeans took it over). Still, I remember the quiet reverence that prevailed during the few days after that terrible tragedy—the great, rare PAUSE that held us all in the palm of its sheltering hand.