Thursday, September 11, 2014

'A Turn of the Page'

I looked at the clock as I left my gym this morning and watched that red second hand sweep around the dial.

It was 8:36 AM, September 11, 2014. In 10 minutes there would be a moment of silence to mark the time when the first hijacked plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center 13 years ago at 8:46.

I thought of the second hand running around the clock, relentless, unstoppable. I’d give anything to back it all up, return to that beautiful sunny morning in 2001 and undo this nightmare.

But time only goes one way.

There’s a song by the Moody Blues called “Isn’t Life Strange” that’s been playing in my head for last day or so, even though I haven’t heard it in years.

It’s a solemn tune that seemed to fit today’s mood.

Isn’t life strange,” it goes, “a turn of the page. A book without light, unless with love we write. To throw it away, to lose just a day, the quicksand of time, you know it makes me want to cry, cry, cry…”

I walked down Church Street and stood outside the Brooks Brothers store at Liberty Plaza, the same place I was standing on 9/11, watching the North Tower burn.

And I was standing there when the second plane hit the South Tower, sending sheets of flame out across the street. I remember the screams, I remember running, running as fast as I could, and feeling like I was going nowhere.

That was a long, horrible day. It was my dad’s 80th birthday and we were supposed to take him out to dinner. But instead I was hiding out in a nursing home on Water Street while debris from the fallen towers blanketed lower Manhattan.
And then I walked over the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of other refugees as fighter jets screamed over our heads.

This morning I looked up at the Freedom Tower and said a prayer for all those who had died and thanked God I had survived.

The area wasn’t as crowded as it has been in previous years, which I think is partially due to the fact that the ceremony was held at the memorial site and only the victims’ families were permitted entry. And, of course, a lot of time has gone by.

“This will be the last one,” a man on the corner said to me. “After this there won’t be any more memorials.”

Unless With Love We Write…

I don’t know where he got this information, but he seemed desperate to talk and not interested in listening so I just nodded until it was time to go to work.

I was standing in the lobby of my building waiting for the elevator when a man approached a woman and began speaking to her.

“Have you been out front?” he asked. “It’s unbelievable.”

Of course I had to investigate. So I walked out to Broadway where four people were holding up signs and singing some kind of hymn. Then I read the signs one woman was carrying.

Thank God 4 9/11,” one side read. Another bore an image of the late Joan Rivers and read “Joan in Hell.”

The woman wore a t-shirt reading, so apparently these were psychotics from the Westboro Baptist Church, here in my city, spewing their hatred a block away from the spot where nearly 3,000 innocent people had died.

There were several cops around to protect these good Christians. A group of construction workers across the street jeered and made obscene gestures at them, but the zealots kept on singing.

It was unnerving to watch these cultists, who were so convinced they doing God’s work. The 9/11 atrocities were committed by religious fanatics and, make no mistake, these people today are cut from the same twisted cloth.

Later I found myself wishing I had confronted them, spat in their faces and risked being arrested. But I’m sure that’s just what they’d want—more hate.

I took time this afternoon to write my annual email to Eva, a woman I had met at the nursing home on 9/11. We walked over the bridge together and I directed her to the Long Island Railroad Station at Atlantic Avenue so she could get home.

“You’re still my 9/11 hero,” she said in her response.

A lot has happened in my life since 9/11. Both my parents have died and we sold our family home.

But the world hasn’t changed all that much. Innocent people are still being murdered around the world, we have a new terror threat in the form of ISIS, and the disaster in Iraq shows no signs of letting up.

Isn’t life strange? So many pages have turned since 9/11, vanishing into the quicksand of time, but I don’t think we’ve learned anything and I don’t think we ever will.

And when I think about that, you know it makes me want to cry, cry, cry…


Ron said...

Rob, I thought of you today because of 9/11 and remembered how when Valerie and I came to meet you last year, you took us to the exact spot where you stood when the second plane crashed into the South tower. And I also remember you sharing with us what you saw and how you felt. I will never forget that because you are the only person I know who actually witnessed 9/11 firsthand.

And I'm blown away by the people you saw outside there today, holding those signs. I'm speechless.

"Isn’t life strange? So many pages have turned since 9/11, vanishing into the quicksand of time, but I don’t think we’ve learned anything and I don’t think we ever will."

I honestly don't want to say this, but I think you're right. And yes, it makes want to cry too.

Thank you so much for sharing this post today, buddy.

Bijoux said...

We live in a messed up world. I was shook up last night when I heard that the convicted school shooter from my sister in law's community escaped from prison yesterday. How does that even happen???

The best we can do is surround ourselves with the love of family and friends.

Rob K said...

My God, Bijoux, I read about that incident online! I can't believe that actually happened. I hope they find that psycho immediately.

And I think you have the best way of dealing with this world and it's problems.

Stay safe.

Rob K said...

@Ron--I remember when you guys came into the city. It was so great meeting you both!

ANd yes, those people are appalling. They use God as a cover for their own hatred. But we can't let them win.

Take care, buddy!

bonnie said...

I always like to imagine those crazy fundamentalists arriving at the pearly gates, New Yorker cartoon style, and getting a surprise - "God's fine with all those people you think S/He hates. Not too crazy about you, though. Bye now." (gates slam, trapdoor opens).

Rob K said...

Brilliant, Bonnie!

Check out this video by Bill Maher on the death of Jerry Falwell. It's hysterical!

Take care!

CrystalChick said...

Life certainly is strange.

9/11 is my Aunt's birthday, too. I think she turned 84 this year.

Have you been to the memorial (Empty Sky) here in NJ? It's in Liberty State Park. We haven't, as we're closer to Philly than NY, but may get up there some day.

Of course, many people have differing opinions, and that is okay, but groups like WBC I just do not understand at all.

It's nice that you still correspond with the woman from the nursing home. :)

Rob K said...

Hey, Mary!

Wow, 9/11 is also your aunt's birthday? Spooky, isn't it?

I haven't been to Liberty State Park yet, but I'll make a point of getting over as soon as I can.

I so enjoy corresponding with my friend from that day. It's like "Same Time Next Year" and the WBC freaks can rot.

Take care!