Tuesday, September 11, 2007
This Special Day
I took my annual walk around Ground Zero today.
The weather is terrible today, overcast and rainy, such a stark contrast to Sept. 11, 2001, when the sky was so perfectly blue you’d swear we’d never hear from winter again.
This foul day seems more suitable for mourning.
There were thousands of people there, of course, milling around the spot where the World Trade Center was destroyed six years ago.
I wanted to go to the exact spot on Liberty Plaza where I stood when the second plane hit the south tower, but the cops had blocked the area off.
I went during my lunch break and missed the official ceremonies that had taken place earlier in the day, but there was still a lot going on.
I followed a steady beat emanating from the area of the PATH station, and saw a group of people holding up their fingers in the peace sign. A group of drummers, whom I assumed were Buddhists, were seated on the ground hitting on their drums.
There were flowers and balloons attached to the fence around the future site of the Freedom Tower, but right now it’s still a hole in the ground.
I saw one young man in camouflage shorts gripping the fence in anguish, his head down, the only visible identifying mark was the large tattoo on his right arm.
I walked around, speaking to a friend who had called me on my cell phone, and came back a few minutes later. The tattooed man was still there, his face still turned toward the fence.
I wondered what his story was: did he lose someone on that terrible day? Was he firefighter or a relative of one of the victims? But not knowing gives him a more universal appeal; he exists as a symbol of grief in a way that makes me think of The Pietà.
As I left I saw a woman in the protest area holding a sign that read “A Nation of Sheep Being Led by Wolves.” I smiled, gave her the thumbs up, and she smiled back.
It's amazing: the people protesting this senseless war in Iraq are kept in a pen, while the people who brought this nightmare upon us are allowed to walk around free. Only in George Bush's America.
Today would have been my father’s birthday 86th birthday. He died in January and he’s buried with my mother. Monday was their anniversary and this is the first one they’ll spend their special day together since my mother died in 2002.
I stopped by Trinity Church and caught part of the noon time mass. As people went up for communion, I thought of that young man with the tattoo and recalled a time I was in church with my father.
I was very young and I remember looking at my dad after he had returned from receiving communion. He got down on the kneeler and put his face down in his hands. He looked like he was having a spiritual experience.
North Tower Tales
As my sister and I clean out our family home, we keep finding all sorts of strange artifacts. The other week I found an old visitor’s pass I had gotten at the trade center.
I was out of the work at the time and CNN, my old company, had set up the victims of their corporate bloodletting with an outplacement company located on the 21st floor. I guess this was supposed to ease their collective conscious.
Security was tight after the first bombing and you had to show photo ID and pose for a day-pass each time you went in. I didn't think anyone would be able to strike at the towers again.
The visitor’s pass is dated March 31, 2001. Thousands of people, and the towers themselves, had less than six months to live.
I had gotten a job at Goldman Sachs by Sept. 11, and that’s why I was in Liberty Plaza when the planes slammed into the towers.
During the first few days after the attacks, I started thinking about the people at that outplacement company. They were nice to me and quite helpful. So I called their main office and left a message.
"I hope you guys are all right," I said.
No one ever called back, but I wasn't expecting that. I just wanted to do something at a time when everything seemed so hopeless.
That was my second brush with the World Trade Center. Years before, in the early Eighties, I had worked for a company located on the 92nd Floor of the north tower.
I hated everything about that place and I didn't stay with that outfit for very long. I still remember the rocket-blast ride up the elevator, which roared up about 70 stories before its first stop. And then it went higher.
As scary as going up was, coming down was even worse. I felt like I was falling through that elevator shaft. My co-workers told me they had been in the express elevator one time when it fell several stories.
On windy days, the building would actually creak and move slightly. I was told this was part of the design.
We had some kind of emergency while I was working there. We could smell smoke and we had to take the stairs down several floors. People were making jokes about it, but we were just a little nervous.
In one of my few celebrity sightings, I saw Muhammad Ali in the lobby on my lunch break on time. He was walking with another man and he did his best not to make eye contact with anyone.
He had retired by then, with no hint of the bravado that he displayed in his heyday. Now he just looked drawn and tired.
I keep thinking that this day should be different somehow, that we should be acting differently, thinking differently. But as I look at the small screen on my office telephone, I see the date, "SEP 11," displayed there like it is any other day.
As I am writing this, just blocks from Ground Zero, I can hear chanting coming up from Broadway.
I guess its protestors and part of me wants to be there with them. There’s so much to protest, starting with this war, which the wolves began by using 9/11 as a launching pad.
My God, even a wolf wouldn't sink that low.
But just for today, I’d like to put my head down and pray for those who died on this day six years ago.