I went back to Ground Zero today, five years after the destruction of the World Trade Center.
I've been by there before, of course, but this was the first time in a long while that I took a long look at that vast hole in the ground and really thought about what happened there on Sept. 11, 2001.
I started my day by sending my traditional anniversary e-mail to a woman named Eva, whom I met on 9/11 in a senior residence, where we and so many had taken refuge after the towers collasped.
Eva was in from Long Island for just that day and we walked over the Manhattan Bridge together to Brooklyn, where I directed to the LIRR station at Atlantic Avenue.
She later called me her angel for guiding her to the station. I didn't think I did all that much, but I must confess it did feel good to be called an angel. It doesn't happen often.
Before going to Ground Zero I stopped by St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, which is just a block away, to pay my respects to those who died on that day.
I used to go to St. Peter's a lot back when I worked on Liberty Street for Goldman Sachs. Every Wednesday I'd attend the lunch time mass and I marveled at how quickly the priests could get the service done if they really had to. I wish they had worked that fast back when I was going to Our Lady of Angels.
After 9/11, Goldman pulled out of the Liberty Plaza building and I worked down on Water Street. I stopped going to St. Peter's.
Today's service had already begun, but I made it in time to say the Our Father and then exchange the sign of peace with the people around me.
I usually find that part of the mass a bit corny, but shaking a stranger's hand and wishing him or her peace on a day like today felt very comforting indeed.
There were a lot of suits in and around the church, which I guess meant there were some people of import inside attending the service. If there were any around, I didn't seem them.
I was also in time for the part of the mass where the priest or deacon recites a series of requests, and the congregation responds "Lord, hear our prayer." One of them seemed to be meant especially for me.
"For those who resist the pull of hatred," the deacon said, "and for those who have succumbed...Lord, hear our prayer."
Live Every Day
I thought about the trouble I've been having with my father, who marked his 85th birthday today, how I've been so angry with him, how I wanted to pound with my fists when he tried to attack me...how I had succumbed to the pull of hatred.
What is a terrorist, but someone who hates millions of people instead of just one? But it seems I'm still worthy of prayer and I came out of church feeling like there was some hope for me.
People were walking all around Ground Zero. One Asian lady was by the fence making paper cranes for peace, according to the cardboard sign she had placed in front of her.
She invited people to talk to her as she worked and now I regret I didn't speak with her. She seemed like such a sweet lady, it would have been nice to hear what she had to say.
There were a bunch of people going around in black t-shirts that read "Investigate 9/11." I'm not sure if these were the controlled demolition crowd or some other outfit and I didn't stop to ask. There were a number of anti-Bush signs, and one schmuck--you can tell I'm a liberal, right?--held a sign reading "When the Left Says Peace, They Mean Surrender."
I guess if I hit took the sign away and hit him over the head with it, I'd be succumbing to hatred, wouldn't I? Oh, hell...
And speaking of hell, there was a man standing outside the stock exchange, reading from the Bible and holding a sign that read "Except Ye Repent, Ye Shall Likewise Perish."
I kind of wished that guy had taken the day off. Terrorizing people with images of eternal damnation doesn't make you any less a terrorist. People will find their way to God or they won't. Calling everyone sinners at such a painful time is one of the worst sins of all.
And I would have preferred that both sides of the political equation had stayed home. This is a time for remembrance and healing, not for slogan hurling. We can always go back to bickering bright and early on 9/12.
We didn't do much for my father's birthday, as his blood sugar was so high yesterday we had to postpone his planned birthday dinner. I've been so appalled by his recent behavior that I didn't buy a present and I picked up the cheapest, most forgettable birthday card ever made.
I usually leave his card on the breakfast table, where he can find it first thing in the morning, but this year I just gave him a curt "Happy Birthday" and went to work. Maybe I should be appalled at my own behavior.
I feel a little ashamed now and my sister and I plan to give him a decent birthday celebration when I get back from vacation.
Today is the day where you think about what's really important in life, about how all our petty feelings, all our worries and concerns really don't mean a damn thing. Today we reflect on how fragile life is and how we should treasure every second because it all can be taken away from us.
I thank God I got away from the trade center on that terrible day. I thank God I didn't lose any family members or friends in the attacks. And I'm going to pray that we never go through another day like that ever again.
It's about 11:30 p.m. and I should get to bed. I've got one more day before taking off for a short vacation and I went to be semi-fresh when I show up tomorrow. Naturally I have to tie up a few thousand loose ends before I leave and we all know I'm going to forget something. That's all part of the vacation experience.
It occurs to me now that the day is alomost over and Eva has not responded to my e-mail. Maybe she's busy, or on vacation herself. Or maybe she's decided that the annual e-mail exchange should end now, and that we should move on. I hope not. I like being someone's angel.
So, for all those who lose loved ones on 9/11 I can only repeat what I heard in church: Lord, hear our prayer.