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some thoughts on 9/11

September 11, 2011

we take a break from the usual content for some thoughts on what happened 10 years ago today.

1. Nothing Ironic

On the night of September 10, 2001, I flew from Boston to Buffalo. A flight to NYC was at the next gate, but it was delayed because of bad weather around the city. I thought “all those people will be stuck here until tomorrow morning.” I thought about them again the next day and hoped they made it home before the airports got shut down. I feel no sense of irony about flying the night before from the airport where two of the doomed planes originated. Just a coincidence.

I was in my office when the attack started. Someone shouted “a plane hit the World Trade Center!” We all retuned our radios to news and went online to see headlines. Without details I thought some little private plane smacked into the building. We learned it was a passenger jet. It made no sense. Then we found out about the other planes and it did make sense.

2. Making Whole

On the National Day of Prayer I went with Chris, Linda and one or 2 other co-workers to Trinity Cathedral. It was full to overflowing like Christmas or Easter Sunday. The (Episcopal) bishop gave a homily about remembrance. He said remember is the opposite of dismember. To remember is to put things back together. Through remembrance we become whole again. These remarks are among the most comforting and inspiring I have ever heard. Remember is one of my favorite words. I think of episodes in the Bible where God remembers—God remembered Sarah, and she had Isaac; God remembered Israel, and the people were delivered from bondage. God’s remembrance is my creed.

3. New City

Within two months I went down to the City. New York lost its cold edge. People were more caring, friendlier. I rode a bus down Fifth Avenue. At every stop someone on the curb asked “Do you stop at such-and-such?” And the driver answered each one completely and patiently.

4. Security

When we started flying again there were security checks entering the airport and boarding the plane. I got patted down at least once. I did think all the fuss about proper IDs was misplaced. Why would being a Jihadi preclude you from having a drivers license? And El Quaida members would certainly have the best fake IDs money could buy.

On that first trip back to New York I had tea at the Peninsula Hotel. At a nearby table a banker from London was having a drink with some colleagues. He was visiting a couple of cities over here and told how he and his luggage got searched at every airport. Although he was an impeccably groomed middle aged man in a Saville Row suit, his itinerary bore the hallmarks of a terrorist. He was traveling alone, on short notice, point-to-point. He said he did not mind the constant pat-downs; and airport security had always been more intense in Britain.

5. Monuments, Not Memorials

I also came across one of the walls where people posted pictures and details about the missing in the hope that someone had seen their husband, sister, uncle, friend. The pictures were beautiful and the notices shattering. I read dozens through teary eyes.

Some months later, on another trip, I found another one of the walls. I hoped something was being done to preserve this monument to love and hope. It was not a memorial because all those people were still alive. Alive in the memories of those who lost them and alive in the present thoughts of strangers.

6. The Sphere

Down in Battery Park I saw the bronze sculpture that had stood in the towers’ plaza. I stopped. The shock of recognition shook me like an electric charge. Unlike the neat white excavation at Ground Zero, or the walls of photos, here was something I recognized, something that I knew. And although familiar, it was utterly different. It was dented and gashed and in a much nicer setting than the sterile plaza. It looked bigger and smaller than I recalled. One survivor of the attack, retired to a peaceful place where it talks to us about how everything has changed.

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