“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” (T. S. Eliot) – 9/11/01
The world has become a slow motion replay frozen in place like the cloud of smoke that hangs over the usually effervescent N.Y. City.
A world caught in the convulsive echo of six thousand haunting cries.
The World Trade Center has fallen.
I was zapping, and remained paralyzed with my finger on the CNN TV channel.
This was the first tragedy I witnessed; I rather wouldn’t, but fate is implacable that way – you are contemporaneous with an event or not; unfortunately there is no turning back.
A flood of refugee’s streams down the streets of that beautiful city that I once visited, people walking at a steady pace, not speaking, too stunned to notice anything around them. Businessmen and women from the financial district, students from evacuated schools, tourists and onlookers herded by police, everyone pushed by the dust and wreckage. Then a wave of survivors covered in dust and ash.
And another wave.
For hours to come I watched mesmerized, glued to my TV, the parade of survivors, surrounded by a growing symphony of sirens and roaring engines.
I begin to get a glimpse of the new New Yorker. People whose eyes still reflect the beauty and pride and towering spirit of the World Trade Center, yet whose eyes are also caught in a moment, unfocused, reliving an internal torture, an unutterable gasp of disbelief, sadness, loss.
The shock of 3,000 spirits has rushed through them, leaving their 3,000 fingerprints of meaning imprinted on their consciences.
To some the Towers symbolized the essence of capitalism, the greatest landmark in the world’s greatest city, a testimony to freedoom. To some they were a wondrous example of architecture, the product of human ingenuity that made hearts skip a beat and people raise their gaze above the horizon. The Twin Towers, visible from nearly every spot in Manhattan, have always been a kind of compass.
A beacon of light.
Now New Yorker’s gazes rise to find a hole in the sky. A hole in their expectations. Everyone seems to be amazingly calm.
I watch the screen in utter disbelief.
People see on screens around the world, tears running down New Yorker’s faces.
New York is in mourning.
Change has thrown itself like a mirror in front of their path. It is time, for all of us, for all humanity to think about where are we going.
A great compass for all human kind has disappeared. We light candles as remembrances, candles to illuminate our path. But are we ready to move forward, into a world without safety?
The Towers were not just a compass, they reminded of the power of creation. They were monuments to the mystery of the possible, a testament to what can be done.
A crossroads of dreams and skill. Impossibly high, as they used to be against the night sky.
How could a tower exist that is more than twice the height of the buildings surrounding it, buildings that already touch the stars?
A reminder that an impossibly huge amount of people can live within an impossibly small space and coexist.
Striking at the heart of what is America, the terrorists couldn’t have destroy anything more poignant, more significant.
Now that the Towers are gone, along with 3,000 irreplaceable lives, it is difficult to summon the kind of energy and courage they inspired. Or is it?I was amazed by the New Yorkers’ resilience, I was watching the screen in awe with the people of this city responding to a new hero in their midst. A new bravery. A new standard.
Perhaps it is only against our will that wisdom comes. Only after suffering or struggle. And perhaps it is the embrace of wisdom that is able to give meaning to this tragedy. Wisdom that yields kindness, courage, energy and a creative spirit.
It is impossible to sum up, to draw conclusions.
Maybe later, but not yet.
Maybe “when I am old and gray”, as the poet says I’ll be wise enough to make some sense out of this immense pain I felt.
The grief of strangers has become our own. Now we work, together, to make the world safe for joy, to make ourselves more vigilant, in so many ways. We struggle to give our daily lives the kind of meaning this tragedy compels us to give. Or make ourselves brave enough for joy in a world less safe. We work to make ourselves more vigilant, in so many ways.
For the meaning of so many deaths can only be shown in how we live our lives.
I look forward to visit New York again.
And I vow to never forget the dignity of this experience.