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Melancholy and the infinite sadness

It wasn't until hours later, after I left Faith, after the train ride back to the Island, after getting home and watching a movie with my husband and not until I put the discs in the computer and looked at the photos that I took today that I cried. And here I sit now, crying and typing and uploading those pictures.

I'm writing this straight from my head and my heart; no previewing, no editing. I just really want to get back on the couch and have a glass of wine with my husband and maybe watch a funny movie. So pardon any stilted writing or disjointed phrases. I've done this photoessay style, which turns out to be much better than just putting up pictures with captions because sometimes a photo deserves more than just a caption, sometimes it deserves a story or an emotion.

When you are standing there, looking down into a pit that used to be the foundation for two enormous buildings, and the last time you stood in that spot those buildings were still there, still alive with people, it's just hard to comprehend. All you see is a hole and dirt and the the facade where the subway used to be. And you see workers moving around and Caterpillar trucks driven by burly men smoking cigarettes and wearing hardhats and you think, ok, this isn't so bad, they've rebuilt so much already and maybe, just sitting here watching these men work, I can feel hopeful about what will rise here.

And then you look at the girders that surround the steel fencing that keeps you back from the site and you see the writing all over the girders, black Sharpie marks in a thousand different handwritings and so many different languages, some written by children and it breaks your heart in two. I had to swallow that lump in my throat and take my eyes off of the words of sorrow and the blessings and the poetry that read like a funeral dirge. And then you see the cross and you avert your eyes but youturn back and look again and your stomach does this giant leap into your throat.

And no sooner do I stop looking at the scrawled messages then I look up and see the big boards, the ones that look like marble but maybe aren't and they've got the names on them. The names of every victim, every person who died in and around that building, the workers who never saw it coming, the emergency workers who saw it coming and ran towards it, as is their life's work to do so, the people on the ground, all of them. So I take my camera and point it upwards and walk carefully, slowly towards the G's and I snap one, two, three, I don't know why I kept snapping those photos, I just did. And then I walked towards the R's and looked for Claude Richards and there he was and I snapped again, just two this time before I realized that I did not want to look for any more names of people I knew, people my father knew because - just because. We walked around and Faith was so patient because she had done this before, more than once and I know the last time she was there it was raining and she cried and she was hugged by a stranger and I know it was hard for her to do this again, to be my tour guide of sadness, but she did and she waited while I leaned my face against the fence, my fingers entwined on the metal grates and I stared. And stared. And I still could not comprehend that there used to be two towering buildings there.

We walked further and there were people selling things; trinkets and photo albums of the dead and dying, photos of the smoke and fire and little crystal replicas encased in plastic and I saw one man tentatively pick one of those trinkets up and the man who was selling them, who did not speak English, smiled at the other man and flicked his finger against the plastic case as if to say hey, this World Trade Center is fortified with polysomethingorother and look, it won't fall down! and I felt a bit sick at that.

A few more steps down, next to the people selling FDNY t-shirts and I Survived The Blackout t-shirts, there was a table of more, a sea more, of those plastic trinkets and behind that plastic garbage were three laptops with DVD players and they were all going loud and strong, music with the words of newscasters talking to the beat and the images, all those images, the planes crashing and burning and people running and sobbing. Why? Why would they play that right there? Would it make people by more plastic towers? Why didn't I take my arm and sweep it across the table like someone in a movie would do? I had this sudden image of that scene in Jesus Christ, Superstar, where Jesus goes into the temple and knocks all the wares off the tables and I just choked back my anger and moved on.

We walked some more, I think we were on the west side of the pit now, I'm not sure but on my left were the buildings, the lesser known buildings in this act, the minor characters who still played an impact, which I think is called fifth business in some industry or other. I could see the scars on the buildings and this one was draped in black. Have you ever seen a building draped in black? Like it was in mourning. On the next building there was a mural and I went snap, snap, snap again, just shooting and thinking and maybe keeping myself from looking the other way, where you could still see parts of the concrete of the original foundation and I needed to keep my mind from going in the direction it was headed, which would be the direction where you start thinking about that day and all the strewn pieces of whatever once laid in a heap down there.

And then we were done, I didn't want to see anymore. I had enough. I had enough of the smiling tourists asking people to take their pictures while they held their girlfriends hand and smiled in front of those girders and the workers and right under the plaques with the names of the dead. Enough of the people lining up to buy their photos of fire and their books of the dead with labels like Tragedy! Horror! and enough of the messages of hope and love and Jesus Saves.

And now I'm home and looking at the pictures and I still can't help but wonder why. I mean, even if I know why, even some people think they know why but they don't, I will never understand it and I don't think I want to.

But if feels good to cry. I don't do that enough. I think I'll have that glass of wine now.


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more hugs

Take your time. We'll still be here. :)

Michele... I am... that took my breath away. Thank you so much for taking the time to share that with me. I am touched.

The building draped in black is the former HQ of American Express. Their survival in the wake of 9/11 was, to me, incredibly inspirational.

Of course, I'm not a leftist.

I was going to post the pictures I took when I was in town last May but you beat me to it. I guess I will anyway. I will pick out the best 11 and post one a day.
It sounds and looks like little has changed since I was there, I had hoped that they would be moving faster but the nitwits are in charge now.
The black draped building has developed a lot of mold and they may have to tear it down.

I don't live in NY, I didn't lose anyone when the towers went down, but everytime I see such a tribute, the shock, the horror, the fear of what I saw on tv is fresh in my mind. Part of me wants to forget, but I never will. Thank you for sharing.

Don't be so hard on the trinket buyers, Michele. My boyfriend went to New York several months ago, and he was charged, on pain of an ass-kicking, to get me a trinket, a model of the towers.

I wanted one for the same reason you (and I) want to see those pictures from 9/11. To remember.

That, and because I'd been to New York twice in my life---once for a plane change in 1995, once for one day of sightseeing in 1975, when I was a young teenager under parental control. I didn't see the WTC either time. To me, having this little model is like having a poor copy of the memory I can't have, and an apology for a missed opportunity.

It sounds stupid, but there it is.

The model is only three inches high, sealed inside a plastic box. There's nothing to indicate that it was sold post-9/11, except someone has stuck a tiny flag on the outside of the plastic box. At the bottom is printed "God Bless America".

A cynical manipulative ploy to get people to buy? Or a small acknowledgement of a sentiment shared by seller and buyer? You decide; I don't care.

Thanks for posting the pictures. Niles's weren't nearly as good.

Perhaps it might be a good thing if everyone had a world trade center of their very own, then at least we would know that they have not forgotten.

Thanks, Michele.

I was 14 years old the first time that I ever went to NYC. The year was 1987. I went with my Art class to see a few museums in the city. As a bonus, we got to ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, and visit the World Trade Towers.

I have one, pathetic photo take with a 110 camera. I layed down and took a picture while looking up. I was totally enthralled by these two buildings. I was a country girl. I had never been to such a big city. I was in awe. I stood there for an hour just looking up. I felt so small. So insignificant.

For years I had an infatuation with the NYC skyline. I bought everything I could that had the skyline on it. Pictures, postcards, mirrors, tee shirts...

I learned about the minds behind the building of the towers. I read about the architect, Minoru Yamasaki. I read all that I could.

Those buildings amazed me.

On September 11, when it was all happening, I was locked onto CNN. I watched as the plane slammed into the second tower. I watched as they both fell. I watched people jumping. I watched soot covered people running for their lives.

I felt as though maybe the world was coming to an end. How could this happen?? I was mortified. I was scared. I was sad.

And you know what? I STILL feel mortified, scared and sad. And ANGRY. Damn fucking angry.

And I did not know a single soul involved.

But I read you. I read others who WERE involved. People who DID know someone who was lost. And it pisses me off. I am sad. I am angry. And I am mortified.

I will never forget. Ever.

Thank you for sharing this Michele.
I promise, I will never forget....

This was beautiful. Thank you for the experience.

Michele, I read the bits about the black Sharpie markers, and I think that you should know that there's something you missed during your visit, because it was taken away by someone: I called it the Scrawl Wall. I walked by it as often as I could stand when I was on the way to my office. While it was there it was a place where folks from around the world expressed what you have expressed and more, with Sharpies and Bics and White-out and whatever they had handy. But it's gone now, and--as far as I know--no one's said a damn thing about it.

I submitted an Op-Ed to the NYT about it. You can read that letter here.

[Apologies--the link hijacks the comment window; for some reason the target="_blank" HTML command doesn't seem to work]

thank you, for having the courage to look. to see it. to write about it. to remember.
i went down there twice, 3 days after and the month after and i haven't been back because i can't steel myself to see all those people looking at the holes in the sky. even if i could, i wouldn't know how to talk about it. but you do, and it's breathtaking.
thank you.

This was...beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Reading it brought tears to my eyes and pain in my throat, so I can imagine how you must have felt being there...especially knowing someone who died there.

I like to think of the activity surrounding the area as a ressurection of sorts, not that we need forget what happened or necessarily capitalize on what happened, but that we are moving on with life. Don't you think every person who died that day would want us to rebuild and continue to try to make life good again?



this IS why I come here.

Thank you.

Angie, I too have a small WTC that I bought after 9/11 and tucked away for safe keeping. The kinds of things Michele and I saw were picture books of the crash and guys playing footage of it on laptops and selling them as CDs. That got me crying, just seeing that, and how that guy behind the table could sit and listen to it all day long.

I appreciate that people want small reminders like the minitature towers Angie descibes. But much of the other stuff there is incredibly offensive and upsetting to NYers forced to pass the area daily. Giant posters of the planes mid-crash, hats and tshirts that say GROUND ZERO like it's a brand name. There's no reason someone can't buy the tasteful, respectable articles (like the statue described) in midtown, away from the area itself. Isn't that far more tactful, for the sake the survivors? Remember, besides being a memorial, it's also people's home. That said, they're really moving pictures- thanks for putting them up.

Well said. Thanks...

I wish I could join you in that glass of wine as I sit here with tears streaming down my face...


thank you.

I read this last night and tried three times to write a comment.
I still can't. After almost two full years it's still there, first the tears, then the white-hot rage. Then the dull ache.

I went into the City 3 days after it happened, but it took me 3 months before I was able to go downtown. I had friends visiting from Utah and I took them down there. At that time, the closest you could get was Broadway, one block east. They were still clearing the debris, there were cranes everywhere, and some of the steel girder frame was still visible.

(A few years ago I worked on Broadway and Chambers, which is only a few short blocks north. I used to shop at the Barnes and Noble at the WTC. I had several friends who worked there, and we used to meet for lunch. I was more than grateful that I wasn't working there "that" day. All of my friends managed to get to safety that day. Except for one.)

I drove by several times after that, but I didn't actually go back until this past April when my boyfriend Mike was visiting from England. The site itself looked like any other construction site. Peering through the fence, there was nothing to distinguish it except for the nearby mural, the cross and the flag at half mast. Stepping back from the green netting, you see the memorials, the plaques and the scrawled messages that bring it all into focus. And of course, the memories flood in like the tide.

The only way I can think to describe it is to say that it's like a sharp kick to the solar plexus.

There's a part of my brain that just can't fathom that it's the same place. Another part remembers how tremendous the towers were, and the remaining construction site somehow seems too small to have once housed something so majestic. Another part can't believe how truly contained the damage was. I was convinced, when I saw those towers fall, that everything from Chambers Street to Battery Park would be gone. And still another part has a hard time believing that it wasn't all some twisted Hollywood action movie starring Bruce Willis.

For the rest of my life, even when they eventually build the new complex, the skyline will forevermore look incomplete and just plain wrong.

Thank you for sharing.

I'm sitting here crying. The picture of Pete's name did it. Knowing how much he, and his death, have affected you. I'm crying for you I think. For the pain I know you feel. For how hard that must have been, for how much strength that took.

Get that husband of yours to give you a great big gigantic hug from me ok?

Would you accept an entry from a non-New Yorker who experienced Oklahoma City?

I'm formulating a post in my mind for September 11, but I don't know that I'm worthy of inclusion.

Simply beautiful. Michele, this is making me want to fly out to NY just to see the construction and cry my eyes out. Thanks for posting the images

My wife and I went sailing on Raritan Bay in New Jersey a week after 9/11. We'd planned the trip for weeks and I was looking forward to meeting some new people. The sail boat was gorgeous. The weather was perfect and the water was just right.
It was also one of the most bizarre experiences I'd ever want to have. We live in Monmouth County, NJ, just across New York Harbor from Manhattan. We saw the buildings collapse from Sandy Hook. We saw the smoky plume for miles. We all heard stories about refugees being decontaminated at the ferry docks, where rescue workers waited for that final, terrible boat to come in with the wounded. It never did. There were no more.
That day was burned into our collective souls and we needed that sailing excursion. We thought we could escape. But every time we tacked east, that huge column of smoke appeared just beyond Staten Island. As if on schedule, the column would belch huge mushroom clouds of cement-gray smoke, and all we could think about were the victims, living and dead. We couldn't wait to get off that boat and into a bar.
Your story and photos brought all this back. They are a cogent reminder of the horror and sadness of that day, and of the determination we need to ensure that it never happens again.
Thank you for a wonderful effort.

Thanks, Michelle
We all say we'll never forget, but just before I read your piece I was planning out some activities here at our high school. They are to take place on the eleventh, as that is when they fit in the calendar and the scedule, yada yada. I never considered the significance of the day, and I am not a member of Move-on.org. Thanks for keeping the memory alive, and reminding me(God, I never thought I would write that!) that it happened.

My friend called me at home, Bangkok, excitedly telling me to turn on the TV! I was finishing teaching homework, so turned on my 11pm TV to see Thai television rebroadcasting live WTC events... smoke pouring from WTC One...

And a plane coming into view... and slamming into a building full of non-combatant Americans...

That night, at that moment, my American heart renewed my birth-bonds with all that's decent and good in America, and with all my heart, I knew we were at war.

They want no dialogue, for we dirty them with our unbelief. They have no pity, for we are lower than animals. They seek no appeasement, for we have not the dignity nor authority to make agreements, and we have NOTHING that they want.

They danced in the streets at our pain.
We were stunned by the public display of their depravity, their ignorance and their crippled, stunted spirit...

Stunned no longer, we're steeled to carrying to their heart, Baghdad and Tehran, the American flag of honor, freedom, democracy, self-determination and justice.

We hold 9/11 as it is: larger than we can possibly imagine, this close to it... but we accept and embrace it as LARGE. America is not trivializing WTC, we are NOT forgetting...

America moves on, confident that the stirrings of regret, discomfort and fear among the despotic leaders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran are RIGHTEOUS... They are right to feel fear, right to dread the soon-to-come day when their people realize how shamefully their leaders have abused their peoples' trust...

"For I have given power to the people..." said the Lord of Hosts.

Thank you for your sensitive, capable essay.

This is the sort of memorializing we need -- a reminder of the human costs of September 11.

Thanks, Michele.

We visited New York before 9/11, saw the City from the Empire State Building, but saved the World Trade Center tour "for next time we're in town." Carpe diem.

I am so glad Jen posted a link. I was gone when you posted this... so very powerful....

Thank you so much for putting into words what I still cannot.

From someone who hasn't been to NYC and can't travel there anytime soon, I truly appreciate seeing it through your eyes. The way you see it. Not the media. I don't have the words for how much this touched me. Thank you.



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