I climbed up the steps of Liberty Plaza on Thursday morning and looked for the spot where I was standing when the planes hit the World Trade Center 15 years ago.
I was a little early this year, making my annual pilgrimage to the place outside the Brooks Brothers store a few days ahead of today’s memorial services.
My sister and I are going to the theater this afternoon, so I wanted to make sure I stopped by Ground Zero to say my prayers for those we lost and give thanks that I survived that day.
It all looks so different now. The Freedom Tower complex is rising from the location where the Twin Towers once stood before they were destroyed and turned into a mass graveyard by a handful of psychotics in two hijacked jet liners.
While I was taking photos a couple of fire engines came flying up the street with their sirens blaring and I almost jumped out of my skin. Sirens provided the soundtrack for 9/11.
It’s been 15 years since I stood here in a crowd watching the North Tower burn; 15 years since the South Tower exploded right before our eyes as the second plane struck the building, and we all began running, screaming, and praying to God.
Fifteen years since the normally easy commute home to Bay Ridge became the longest day of my life.
It was my father’s 80th birthday and my mother was in the hospital suffering from the lung disease that would take her from us less than a year later. The staff at Lutheran Medical Center had moved her out of Intensive Care in anticipation of receiving thousands of casualties from the falling towers.
But those injured people never arrived because you either got out of the Trade Center alive on 9/11 or you didn’t get out at all.
Please don’t ask me if I feel we’ve learned anything from this atrocity because other than getting accustomed to long lines at the airport, I don’t think we learned a goddamn thing.
Since 9/11 we’ve had the war in Iraq, “Mission Accomplished,” terrorist attacks all over the world, and nonsensical rants about mass deportations and building walls along the Mexican border.
Our response to all the hatred and insanity that we witnessed on September 11 appears to be more hatred and more insanity.
“A Better World Shall Emerge…”
And I don’t excuse myself from this harsh assessment. After the towers fell and then the air finally cleared, I joined the thousands of people walking over the Manhattan Bridge.
I remember telling a woman I had befriended that I was done complaining about every single thing, that I was quite content with the life I had and that I didn’t have to be rich and famous in order to be happy.
But time passes, you forget how terrified you were that morning, and you start to piss and moan about the most meaningless crap.
When I went to Hawaii last December I took a tour of the USS Missouri where Japan formally surrendered and ended World War II.
"It is my earnest hope,” General Douglas McArthur said on the morning of September 2, 1945, “indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice."
During the war, a kamikaze pilot crashed into the Missouri, but he only succeeded in killing himself. Historians believe the pilot was Setsuo Ishino, who was 19 years old at the time.
There are photos of the pilot as a young man, looking so serious, but there’s also a picture of him as a little boy posing with his family and holding a toy airplane in his hand. (The irony is astounding.)
He’s about five years old in the photo and I wonder what happened to him, how did his mind get so warped in such a relatively short amount of time that he willingly destroyed himself in an attempt to kill other young men.
What happened to that little boy with the toy airplane?
I wonder about the 9/11 hijackers and all the other suicide attackers who imagine that mass slaughter is some kind of holy cause. How did they get so twisted, so depraved, and how the hell can we stop it?
Yes, I’m disappointed that we haven’t learned much from 9/11, but when I’m feeling really depressed, I recall those who gave so much on that day—the firefighters, police, and EMTs.
I think of those wonderful people who were waiting for us on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, who offered us bottles of water and the use of their cell phones.
I think of that fabulous man who drove down Fourth Avenue in his SUV when the subways shut down and helped me and so many others get home to our families.
I remember all those people and I think maybe a better world shall emerge after all.