Sunday, September 11, 2011
I remember the first time I visited the World Trade Center. Those twin towers that had awed me from afar were even more breathtaking up close. Standing against one tower, I laid a hand on it, craned my neck and saw that the building was so tall it I could not see the sky above it. A thought crossed my head. "Long after I'm dead, these towers will be here. For how many hundreds of years will they stand?" These are our cathedrals, our castles, our legacy to future generations.
That memory came back to me today as I watched television networks replay the implosion of both towers - and then of the 45-story World Trade Center building 7. (Why did that one fall anyway?) It took 30 seconds or less for those beautiful buildings to come down. So much for legacy.
I have a sister who worked in the WTC for a time, and several family members used the subway beneath the towers for their daily commute. I was in Washington State on 9/11/2001. I was driving my car across a bridge, U2 was belting out "It's a beautiful day" on the radio, and the sun glittered on the lake and leaves and ridges. The sky was a pristine azure. It was too perfect. I answered my cell phone and learned of the attacks from my parents, who assured me my sisters were ok. But they were not ok. They were stuck on a commuter bus on the Brooklyn Bridge watching people jump out of the fire-engulfed top floors of the WTC. One of my sisters worked there, had many friends there. The thought of my sisters, stuck on a bus, watching people die, was overwhelming...
Why? Why? Why? We're nice people. We don't deserve this. The sight of the empty hole in the New York skyline shattered me. I hadn't expected to be so affected. The people I knew were safe. No one close to me had died there. So why was it so hard? The world was not safe, the future was not certain, and there is no guarantied legacy.
The first year was one of shock, pure shock. A friend went into therapy. He was a peacenik. He never imagined any one would do this to civilians on our own soil. It simply was not part of his paradigm. The national mood quickly turned to revenge. Even if we didn't know who did it for sure - they would pay, everybody would pay. Pay they did. Iraq never had anything to do with 9/11 -- but our troops leveled the country over the threat of what turned out to be imaginary weapons of mass destructions. The betrayal of Colin Powell by President Bush was a bitter twist in the tale. I realized I supported a war based on trumped up charges. Fake WMD. Then the photographs of the Iraqi civilians - bloodied by the war effort- began to trickle into the United States. Our government tried to make sure we didn't see these photos, but thank God, some brave journalists made sure we saw some of the carnage going on. For me, the Iraq War was crystalized by the image of a young boy sitting on a hospital cot with a wad of bloody cotton stuffed into a giant hole in his head. He had nothing to do with 9/11. He was as innocent as our victims. President Bush and Cheney were merciless men - and not even wounded children could deter them in their quest. Bush and Cheney brought unimaginable things to the United States - the use of torture, warrentless espionage on the general population, a refusal to operate in transparency. This was our brave new world. We hoped for change under Obama, but he continued many of the Bush policies - he was hard on whistleblowers, lenient on lawbreakers, and allowed many Bush appointees to continue. So that was that.
Today there is still a hole where the WTC was in the NY skyline. I am so grateful that the footprint of the buildings has been turned into a memorial- with each known victim's name etched onto the stone fountains. New skyscrapers will go up the WTC site, but not where the victims died. Maybe it is appropriate to leave two great holes in the ground where the towers stood. The reflecting pools will be a place to mourn, to reflect, to remember, to hold hands and pray. We did not forget the victims. Seeing those fountains, I realized the national mood had changed again. Where there had been endless thirst for revenge - we are now tired of revenge. We are tired of war. We live in an emotionally scarred country, but we are healing together. We need to be with our families and friends, with our neighbors, with our country. We are mending. We are moving on. We don't forget the past, but we hold onto memories of love and let go of the rest.