Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall and Rise

I walked out of my building at lunchtime one day last week and saw two Buddhist monks crawling on the ground.

They were robed and barefoot, right there on Broadway, and I watched them stand up, raise their hands to the sky in prayer, and then get back down on the pavement to start all over again. A woman I assumed was a nun followed closely behind them.

They didn’t make a sound, didn’t look left or right, they just kept on going, very slowly and steadily.

It was a strange sight, even for New York and people walking down the street stopped to look and take pictures. This ceremony clearly had something to do with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but I'm not sure what.

Ground Zero is right around the corner, so they must have been honoring the thousands of people who were lost on that day.

This may sound strange, but I actually felt a bit of hostility toward these people as I watched them scuttle along the cement.

Seriously, what was the point of this abuse? How are these monks any different from the other religious nutbags I mock and condemn on a daily basis? Let's not forget that the slaughter on 9/11 was perpetrated by psychopaths who thought they were doing God’s work.

“They’re full of shit, too,” I muttered toward the crawling contingent.

I know, I know--shame on me.

It’s so hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since I stood across the street from the World Trade Center watching the North Tower burn. Ten years since a second plane struck the South Tower and sent a sheet of orange flame rolling across Church Street. Ten years since we all ran up Liberty Street on a sidewalk that suddenly felt like a hellish treadmill as we desperately tried to get away.

It's been ten whole years since I sought refuge in a seniors home on Water Street while the earth was covered in the toxic cloud created by the towers’ collapse and ten years since I joined the crowd of survivors hiking over the Manhattan Bridge while fighter jets streaked over our heads.

My father turned 80 on that day; my mother was in the hospital fighting a losing battle against lung disease and she was moved out of the ICU in Lutheran Medical Center to make room for the expected wave of victims that never came.

On 9/11, either you got out or you didn’t.

Where Does the Time Go?

My mother died in July of 2002 and my father left this world in January of 2007. We’re about to sell our parents’ house and we’re busy cleaning out every trace of our family’s history from the property.

I thought about going to the ceremony at Ground Zero today, but I was just too tired and I wound up watching it on television. I sent my yearly email to a woman I met in that seniors residence and whom I escorted to the Atlantic Avenue LIRR station after the dust finally settled.

On Friday I went to an exhibition of 9/11 photographs called “Here is New York” that had been set up in the lobby of my building.

The images of the smoldering rubble, horrified spectators, and courageous rescue crews brought back everything from that day except the godawful smell, which hung in the air for weeks after the attacks.

I think of how Americans all came together back then, supported each other, wept and prayed, and it makes me heartsick to see how, in such a relatively short time, the country has degenerated into a nearly ungovernable free-fire zone, its people more divided than at any other period in my lifetime.

September 11 has been used as an excuse to start a disastrous war, create a string of bogus charities, and drum up business for an online gold peddling company.

It’s difficult not to believe that we’ve learned absolutely nothing from the events of 10 years ago. We live in a country where a major political party’s presidential candidates say—with straight faces, mind you—that God told them to run for the nation’s highest office.

They’re not interested in the power or the money; no, they’re just obeying the will of the Almighty. Think about that the next time you feel like mocking the crazy Muslims.

On Friday night I walked over to the Brook Brothers store on Church Street where I was standing when the second plane hit the South Tower. I moved around a little bit until I was convinced that I had found it, the exact place where I watched history unfold.

I wanted to grab somebody, anybody, a guy heading home, a family of tourists, and say, here, look, I stood on this very spot on September 11, 2001. Aren't you impressed?

I managed to calm down and enjoy the moment privately. And as I looked at the new towers reaching up toward the clouds, I suddenly felt that the Buddhists had the right idea. They weren’t performing some bizarre ritual on Broadway; they were doing the most intelligent thing imaginable when faced with the nightmare of 9/11.

And I thought they shouldn’t be doing it alone. We should all join them; every one of us should get down on our bellies, crawl on the ground like animals, and then stand and pray up toward the sky.


Ron said...

Oh, Rob, this is the most incredible post I've read this weekend on 9/11.

And I read it twice.

I can't even imagine what it must have been like to have ACTUALLY been there and witnessed what you just shared.

I'm sitting here making this comment, weeping.

I know this may sound strange, but it hasn't been but for the past three years that I've actually allowed myself to feel the full impact of this tragedy. It seems that my emotions have had a delayed reaction. All weekend, I've been crying my eyes out just thinking about it and reading all the many heartbreaking memorial blog posts.

I lived in NYC at the time the Twin Towers were completed. But, it wasn't until July of 2001 (when I moved back east) did I even go to the observation deck. And two months later, 9/11 happened.

I'm planning on taking a day trip into NYC next month and visiting Ground Zero for the first time. And I'm so scared of how I will react when I get there. But it's something I need to do. And I want to do it alone because I know I'll need a few hours to just sit and cry.

I can't thank you enough for sharing this honest, direct, and powerful post.

You write brilliantly, buddy!

"We should all join them; every one of us should get down on our bellies, crawl on the ground like animals, and then stand and pray up toward the sky."


Rob K said...

Thanks, Ron, for sharing your 9/11 experiences. I don't think it's strange at all that you delayed your reactions to this tragedy. It was--and remains--so overwhelming that your mind can't comprehend it. Even now I still don't believe it happened and I half-expect to look up and see the towers standing there right where they should be. I encourage you to visit Ground Zero and don't be scared about your reaction. Whatever emotions you have, you just let them out. Take care, buddy!

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

A very sobering post.

I simply cannot imagine what it must have been like to be there, in New York, on that day, let alone close enough to see, hear and smell it happening. I am humbled by your beautifully written, heartfelt post.

People often say 'I know exactly where I was when (X) happened', and usually, I'm the one who doesn't. Not this time. I know where I was on September 11th, 2001. I was in town, hurrying to get my shopping done and get back home when I became aware of an ominous undercurrent - a thickening of the air. I heard snatches of conversation discussing an 'awful' 'terrible' 'unbelievable' event and, like many others, made my way to a TV store and watched as the disaster was silently replayed, over and over. I have no idea how I got home.

It must be a horribly emotional time for you right now, with the house clearance to do as well. Been there, and done that, for my own mother, earlier this year. It is beyond sad.

Rob K said...

Jay, thank you so much for your comments. It has been a very difficult time and I really appreciate how you have shared your experiences with me. Take care!