9/11/01

Six years.

I was thinking this morning about 9/11, and about closure.

They say that 9/11 was the Pearl Harbor of our generation. I suppose that’s so. But America had closure for Pearl Harbor eventually — we fought and won World War 2.

What do we have? Iraq, which regardless of whether we win or lose is not closure, because Saddam Hussein didn’t cause 9/11. We don’t have Osama Bin Laden, and for all we know, we never will. He may be skulking in a cave in Asia, or he may be rotting in an unmarked grave. Either way, no closure there.

So what do we do?

I had some thoughts last year about time and the memory of pain. I find my feelings haven’t changed all that much since then.

Two years after 9/11, it was still painful for me to be at work that day. Tomorrow will be an normal workday for me; we’re even having a special event, part of a new product launch.

But in my heart, I’ll still feel the pain.

God bless you, Kath, wherever you are.

9/11/01: Five Years Later

The WTC from Brooklyn

Five Years.

When something really horrible happens to you, it can warp your sense of time. You feel caught in your agony like a fly in amber; it’s as if the intensity of your pain will never end. And although nothing is completely the same again, sooner or later, the pain begins to release its grip on you, and slowly time begins to move in a more normal manner. Then one day, you realize that weeks, months, even years have gone by since the horrible event.

And here we are, five years after 9/11.

I’ve been doing my damnedest to avoid most of the media hoopla leading up to this day. I don’t need to watch the images again, hear the stories of grief and pain retold. It’s all inside me still. The rawest edges of the horror and sorrow and shock have been worn smooth over time, but even so, all I need to do is close my eyes and it’s all still there.

For those of us for whom New York City was not a series of iconic images on their TV screen or an occasional travel destination, but rather their home, 9/11 can be an intensely personal pain. Those hijackers tore a gaping hole out of my life. My memories of the World Trade Center span not just special events like the dinner with my family at Windows on the World the night of my 18th birthday and drinks with my friend Diana and the rest of her wedding party on her bachelorette weekend in NY, but also hundreds of morning and evening commutes, lunches, trips to the FedEx dropoff in the lobby, visits to friends in their offices. Not to mention that for 10 years, the towers were the first thing I’d see coming out the front door of my old Soho apartment. That those towers no longer exist is something I still haven’t fully come to terms with.

Terrorists cannot steal my memories, but they destroyed the tangible reminder of those memories. It’s a small loss compared to so much else that was destroyed that day, but it’s a real loss nonetheless.

And then there’s Kath.

She was only 40 when she went to work that brilliant September morning. And she never came home. AA Flight 11 slammed right into her office on the 97th floor of One World Trade; we’ll never know for sure, but I’m told her desk was on the opposite side of the building from the impact point and it’s possible that she never even knew what hit her. I pray that that is the truth, because thinking that she might have been standing there at a window, watching the plane heading right for her, is just too painful.

For the first year or so after 9/11, not a day went by that I didn’t think of Kath. And to be honest, five years out, I don’t think about her every single day anymore. But even so, in a way, I feel that I’m living for both of us. That sounds a little odd, and it’s not exactly what I mean, but I do feel a connection and an obligation. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that I feel a responsibility to use this time that I have, which she did not get, in a way that honors her.

We never know what day will be our last. We never know what goodbye will be the final one. And yet, all too often, we waste our precious time. We waste our days at jobs that bore us, we don’t stay in touch with the people who matter to us, we think, ‘There’s always tomorrow’. But sometimes, there isn’t. There’s only a sunny morning, and an airplane flying low over New York City, and the ending of all our dreams.

UPDATE: Read Keith Olbermann.

9/11 in American History

With more than 4 years’ distance between 9/11 and today, I suppose it’s time to start asking where 9/11 fits into the larger tapestry that is American history. In the NY Times this weekend, Joseph Ellis takes the question on. He is likely to get roundly smacked in some quarters for this comment:

Where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

And in fact, by his own definition, I’m not sure even World War II qualifies as “first tier”, because although it was a dire time for many of our allies, I am not convinced that either Germany or Japan would have been able to seriously threaten the survival of the American republic. Perhaps if the war had gone very differently, and then both countries united in an invasion attempt … but I digress.

At any rate, he’s right about 9/11. Now, saying that does not negate the fact that 9/11 was a horrible day for me personally, for the people in my life and my home town, or for the country in general. However, worse things have happened to us, and they may yet again. Demagogues use this to their advantage, though; inflating 9/11’s role in the grand scheme and trying to whip up people’s fears that ‘the terrorists’ are lurking outside their local strip malls and Wal-Marts, ready to strike at a moment’s notice with just a cell phone call from Osama.

The Heretik asks, “Where does it end?” 4+ years later, that’s a more than fair question.

4 Years Later

They say Time heals all wounds. I suppose that’s true; the pain 9/11 caused me is not as sharp as it used to be. But still, 9/11/01 was the worst day of my life.

God bless you, Kath, wherever you are.

UPDATE: Read Pete Hamill today.