The following are the archives of my weblog from the morning of September 11 until a few days after.
This is all unedited, written exactly how it happened, including all the rumors and hearsay from the beginning of the day. I left out are the links that were orginally in the posts, as a lot of them are dead now. Also, these are the archives that pertain ONLY to 9/11, I've left everything else I wrote during that time out.
It's been four years. Some of my ideals, politics and views on things have changed since that day. Some have not.
This is part 4, which is a collection of thoughts from the days and weeks that followed
As Days Go By
What I just witnessed was strength in numbers.
I was taking a quick drive to the store. One block away. As I pulled into the lot, I saw a couple across the street standing outside their building, holding candles. There was supposed to be a candlelight vigil at 7, but it was too light out then. So I figured this couple just came out when it got dark. Very sweet. Then I looked down the block. At least every other house or building had people outside of it, candles and flags held high. I forgot what I had come to the store for and drove out the lot and down the road. All down North Jerusalem Rd., the people stood. They waved, they sang. I turned north onto Gardiners Avenue and the numbers doubled. Down the side streets, they were there. The people who weren't outside had left lit candles by the sidewalks. Old, young, parents, children. They were all out. I decided to swing home and stop at my mother's to let her know. I passed DJ's school and had to stop my car to get a better look at what I was seeing. There were about 400 people, maybe 500. All with candles. All singing, holding hands, hugging. And I couldn't get out and join them. Because I finally broke down.
I pulled over down the next street and stopped the car. I cried. Finally, I cried hard and long and I hyperventilated and had a panic attack. And I stayed there, gasping for air and wiping my tears with my sleeve and sobbing like a little kid. I cried for everything that happened the last few days. I cried for my father, who is walking around like a lost child. I cried for my cousins, who have been sifting through rubble and body parts non stop and will never be the same again. I cried for the vicitms, the survivors, the witnesses. I cried for everyone in this country. And I cried for my kids. Because they will never experience the freedom and safety I felt as a child.
There were some good tears. There were tears of thanks for every rescue worker, every hero, every volunteer. Tears for every person who has comforted someone who needed it. For every kind gesture, every candle lit, every person in another country who has grieved with us.
Then I had a thought. They think they broke us. But I think maybe they fixed us.
I am watching the prayer service. As an atheist, I watch it with a different perspective than religious people. Still, it touches me and moves me and makes me feel like we can come out of this, if we just take what we learn from others who know of patience and love and tolerance, and use it in our everyday lives. You do not have to be religious to be inspired by the words of the religious. You just have to have that place in your heart that allows you to love and accept without boundaries.
We just had breakfast with our firefighter friend Billy, who returned from the scene at 5 this morning after being there all week. I sat in awe, listening to him and barely eating. There is no way that we, as media observers of this event, can even imagine what is going on there. From the scenes he describes, television will never be able to convey the real horror. Billy spent years in the military; he has been in "conflicts" in the middle east. He thought he had seen the worst of anythign he would see in his life before this week. "The things I saw will keep me awake at night for the rest of my life," he said. It's not just the human toll, but the destruction that lies among it. He said there is no way anything near those buildings will remain standing. They are talking about going in and imploding every building in the vicinity. He said that what we see on tv is only about 1% of the truth. While everyone was still calling this a search and rescue mission, it stopped being that days ago. The people working in the rubble - they lost hope of finding anyone alive long ago. He created an image of a city that just stopped dead in its tracks. They found cars and truck still running, abandoned by their owners. His fiancee kept tearing up when he would talk. She never took her hands off of him....He took pictures whenever he was able to get a break, and hopefully he will bring them over today so I can scan them. Not anything horrible, just some images from close to the scene.
Billy also wanted to stress the importance of all the people standing around, cheering them on, giving thanks, sending donations. He said he saw a lot of people on tv saying they didn't know what to do, that they felt helpless, but Billy and all the other rescuers seem to think that the volunteers who are standing on the sides of the roads with thank you signs and bottled water are the real heroes.
I'm still digesting everything he told us. When we parted after breakfast, I hugged him and thanked him and felt awkward because I had no idea what to say to him. And he was ready to go back for more.
From October 2001
I haven't written about it because I haven't wanted to. It doesn't mean I am not thinking about, talking about, feeling it. We talk about it at work. We talk about it at home. I have not forgotten. And let me tell you why I have not forgotten and never will.
Every day when I drive to work, I cry. I cry because I drive west, down one road, all the way there. And as I look west, towards the city, I can see the grayish brown tinge that colors the sky. That haze that hovers above the city has become a symbol of despair for me.
I cry because my life has changed in many ways that I imagined it would, and some I did not. I have developed a fear of planes. Not of getting in one..I've always had that fear but that has more to do with my claustrophobia than anything else. No, I've developed a fear of planes flying overhead. This fear is not conducive to living in the direct flight path of LaGuardia and Kennedy. When I was young, I used to marvel at the site of a 747 flying overhead. I would take a blanket and lay out in the backyard all day and count the planes. They flew low enough so that I could see the markings of each one, and I got to know the logos of Airlines quickly. I used to imagine that the people on the plane could see me, and occasionally, I would wave.
When I was older, just a few years ago actually, when Natalie was young enough to not be in school, we used to have our Concorde ritual. Every morning, a little after 9:00, we would feel the familiar rumbling in the air. Feel. We could feel it before we could hear it. We would stop what we were doing and run outside to wait. Every day I was amazed anew at the sight of the SST flying overhead. Natalie was as awed as I, and our Concorde viewing became one of the sustained memories of her childhood, enough so that she wrote about it in her 5th grade memoirs.
Now, the sound of an airplane approaching frightens me. I visibly shake. The distant rumble that lets me know one is approaching causes a fear to well up in my stomach. I no longer look to the sky with a sense of wonder, but a sense of dread. The planes are flying lower these days, and I can spot not only the logos, but the landing gear and, I swear, I can make out faces in the windows. I am always waiting for something to happen. Something bad.
I sit at my son's baseball games, his Little League field overshadowed by the twin EAB buildings, skyscraper structures made of glass that I no longer view as stunning architecture or a way to reflect a beautiful sunset, but as a disaster waiting to happen. I find myself drifting from the game, no longer hearing the shouts of 8 year olds chasing balls into the outfield, but thinking of shards of glass flying at me. Metal and steel falling. My life has become one big case of dread.
I am not just sad. I am angry. I am terrifed. I am outcast. I have spoken my mind one too many times. I have displayed my thoughts instead of my flag and I have been lambasted for it. "They attacked our freedom," people say, and yes, they have. Because no longer do I feel free to say what I want, to voice dissent, to not cave in to mass patriotism. I'm sorry, but I cannot wrap myself in the comfort of a flag. Blind loyalty does not make me sleep any better at night. Kids coming home from public school singing "God Bless America" frightens me. Weren't we arguing about separation of church and state just a few months ago? Why is god welcome in your school now? Hypocrisy abounds. Revisionist patriotism rears its flag-studded head. My kids come home from school these days not asking me about science or spelling, but why kids in Afghanistan are raised with guns and why we haven't "bombed the hell out of Bin Laden" yet. That, dear friends, makes me cry. That this is the world my kids know. That they fear smallpox and anthrax and nuclear bombs.
I grew up during the Vietnam War. I was oblivious to what most of the war was really about. I wanted more than what Walter Kronkite was telling me on tv every night. I wanted to know why my cousins were arrested at protests almost weekly. But I only knew what Walt told me. This was not quite the information age yet. Now, with the advent of so many ways to get information, we don't. We sit there and stare at the news and read the paper and search the internet and I'm sorry, but I get the feeling I'm being lied to every second of the day. Wait, scratch that, not lied to. Being fed half-truths. After the media gets the 20% of the truth alloted to them by the goverment, we get about 10% of that. We have no fucking clue what's going on. We are so far out of the loop we don't even know where the hell the loop is. Our media is feeding us large doses of O'Doulls beer and we are drinking it down like it's 151 rum. Feeling drunk yet? Feelign patriotic? Feeling like bombing the whole rest of the fucking world? Welcome the mother of all hangovers. The one where you realize you were never really drunk. You just acted that way because someone told you that you were drunk.
Yes, I am sad. But I am also angry. I'm pissed. My world has been fucked with. I have friends who are dead. I have kids who no longer feel safe. And I have people telling me to shut up, pray and salute.
There are moments that years from now will stick in your mind. Images burned somewhere in your brain that don't get tossed out with other forgotten memories. These images are usually something stark, horrifying, disastrous. A car accident. A lover turning his back and walking away forever. Things that get stuck in your psyche.
I had one of those images today. For as long as I live I will never forget the sight of sharpshooters poised on the roof of a church school, guns in hand. Two more perched on my neighbor's balcony, dressed in black, rifles ready. There were a lot of images thrown into the mix today, but none so jarring and unforgettable as that.
This is about a memorial service, but only partly so. The service was for Dan Richards; bomb squad investigator, member of the elite International Association of Bomb Investigators, Airborne Ranger, Police Officer, brother, uncle, friend. I didn't really know Dan. But I know his brother, who is like family to me, and his neices, who were my kids trusted babysitters for many years. I went to the service, as did my family, to support our friends in their time of need. But it became more than that. For so many people there, it was a memorial to the time before 9-11. A lot of the tears cried and anguish realized were a culmination of events in the past month.
This is what we have become. A nation where a bomb sweep needs to be done in a house of worship before a service. A place where helicopters have to fly overhead and men with rifles are watching your back as you gather to pay homage to someone. A place where you hold a service, not a funeral, for someone because there is no coffin, no body. Just a memory.
There were dogs. Bomb sniffing, loyal dogs, sporting red, white and blue bandanas around their necks and they stood color guard as if they were born to do that. There were policemen. Thousands of them, literally. They lined the street 10 deep and hundreds across. There were army men, Airborne men, decked out in dress gear, reassuring and scary at the same time. And in the middle of this, there were people. Regular, everyday people who aren't heros of the life saving kind. Friends, relatives, neighbors who had come to say a few words, to pat someone on the back, to tell them it will be alright.
Dan was obviously loved. Not just loved. Admired. Revered. Respected. And after all the talk, and finding out so much about him through the tears and speeches of those who knew him, I discovered one thing that kept resonating in my head. Years ago, Dan went to Bosnia on a special task force mission. He was sent there to help remove land mines. After going to a foreign country to denonate explosives and living to tell about it, this man died in practically his own backyard. Doing his job.
There were other things today. The motorcycles with their quiet roar parading up the street, flanking the limousines that held the family. The three men standing on top of a Special Services truck, playing taps on their bugles while NYPD helicopters circled overhead and someone in the church belted out Ave Maria, all at the same moment, causing me to ask my mother, "Is this real?" because in my world just a month ago, this would be a movie. Not my life.
There was the women who wrenched the heart of everyone in the place as she sang a soulful, mourning Danny Boy. The bagpipes. The standing ovation the mourners spontaneously gave to the members of the police department as they made their way out of the church. The men and women of that department streaming out with tears in the eyes of each and every one.
We all cried. We sobbed. And it wasn't just for Dan, because some of us hardly knew him. And it wasn't just for his family, even though we were there for them. It was for everyone. For every single person who is living out this nightmare. And I don't care if you are from Timbuktu or right here in New York, whether you were there when it happened or knew someone who died or if you never even spoke to a person who has been within 3 states of New York. We are all grieving. We have all been touched in a horrible way by this. I cried for every single person in America today. I cried because we live in fear, because we need armed guards at funerals, because our lives are narrower and straighter than they used to be. I cried for every person like Dan Richards, who lived his life protecting people and died doing the same.
I felt like I was part of a movie script today, surrounded by guns and helicopters and bomb sniffing dogs while church arias blared in the background. I kept waiting for someone to yell "Cut!" I'm still waiting.