Thursday, September 11, 2008

This of All Days

I always get cranky when I'm rushed.

I was running late for work today and when I got off the train at City Hall, it seemed like every idiot and his brother had come down to lower Manhattan just to get in my way.

The closer I got to my building, the worse it got and when I finally reached my street, a gaggle of twits had stopped dead in their tracks to stare at the TV screen in the front window.

"Excuse me," I snapped at one man, making it sounded like "kiss my ass."

As I passed the TV viewers I muttered "it must be great to be able to watch TV instead of going to work" and I angrily spun my way through the revolving door.

And then I remembered what day it was.

This is September 11, the seventh anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the day that supposedly changed the world forever.

That was the day I stood across the street and watched the planes hitting the towers; the day when the simple commute home turned into a day-long nightmare.

I work just one block away from Ground Zero today and September 11 is my late father's birthday--he turned 80 back in 2001. Yet somehow the importance of the day had slipped from my mind.

I remember walking over the Manhattan Bridge after the towers had collapsed and the debris had finally cleared and thinking that I was going to change my attitude. I was so lucky to have been spared, so I was going to focus on what was important and not worry about the petty crap.

And here I was just 7 years later, around the corner from the trade center site, bursting a blood vessel over some slow-moving pedestrians.

I know I've made some progress over the years--at least I hope I have. But changing your outlook requires constant vigilance; it isn't some miraculous conversion, not in my case, anyway.

It seems like in those weeks after 9/11 people in this city were being nicer to each other. We had all suffered through these terrible attacks, there was no reason to attack ourselves.

I was at a conference on Wednesday and the organizers had a screen set up in the front of the room announcing the name of the event and the date.

I got a chill when I saw September 10, knowing what the next day would be. I thought about how meaningless that date was 7 years ago and how it all changed just a few hours later. We didn't know it but we were about to cross over into another world.

The warm feelings didn't last long after the attacks, though, and sometimes I wonder if the goodwill was as good as I remember it.

I had planned on going to mass at Trinity Church today, but people attending the memorial services had clogged the streets. As I went down Broadway I saw a heavyset blond woman shouting at a man leaning against the temporary fence.

"Just stay away from me," she said.

"You stay the fuck away from me, bitch," the man shouted back.

I guess life is getting back to normal in the city. At the next block I gave up trying to fight the crowd and instead turned around and went back to the office. I'll go on Friday.

After lunch a group of 911 conspiracy theorists gathered across the street from St. Paul's Church and began chanting "911 was an inside job! 911 was an inside job!"

I was surpised at how large the crowd was, how many people don't accept the official story. I don't believe the inside job business, but after so many lies about so many things I guess I can't blame people for doubting the government's version of 911.

As I rode on the train tonight a blind Hispanic man go on at 53rd Street and walked the length of the car, asking for change and singing in Spanish. He was small and elderly and he shook a large paper soda cup for change.

He didn't get off the car after the first run, though, like most of the pan handlers do. This man began going back and forth in our car, like a slow moving duck in a shooting gallery. Either he was disoriented or he had decided he was going to guilt his way into getting more change. (I gave on the first pass, by the way.)

As he went by for the second time, a large, young and apparently healthy Hispanic man began mocking the old guy's labored walk to entertain his girlfriend. When the old man asked if anyone had any change, the young schmuck said "yeah," and pointed to his girlfriend.

She slapped him on the arm and pretended to be embarrassed, but clearly she was enjoying the show. Mocking a blind man? This is your idea of funny?

I wanted to shout at these people, don't you know what today is? Don't you know this the one day of the year that New Yorkers should be nice to each other?

I think we should make 9/11 a national holiday, where instead of sleeping late or going bike riding, we mourn the victims and pray for our future.

It shouldn't just fade away day, like Pearl Harbor, where people barely think about it. But I guess that kind of thing is inevitable. We think we can hold on to a date because it meant so much to us, but time comes along and slowly chips away at it.

I went to lunch with some co-workers a week or so ago and we got to talking about 9/11. I told them my story from that day and when I got done they were both staring at me.

"That's quite a story, Rob," one of them finally said to me.

Yes, it is and I'm lucky to be here to tell it. But I want to remember it, to understand it, and not just repeat it.

I got home from a late dinner tonight and saw the lights from the Trade Center site shooting up into the clouds. Even with the clouds and the darkness, you can still see those beautiful beams.

Let's keep that light burning so we can see no matter how dark it gets.

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