September 11, 2009

11 Sep

It’s a rainy day here in New York City, and my neighbors are walking gently, as they always do on this day.

Eight years ago on a clear, blue sky morning I walked up Second Avenue toward Twenty Third Street.  At 19th street a loud crash made me turn around, thinking I’d heard a car accident.  Nothing was there.  As I approached 20th Street sirens sounded and cars began to pour out of the Police Academy.  At the 23rd Street post office I overheard a man saying that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  I asked him to repeat this and he did, pointing to the smoke, now visible through the high windows .  By the time I got to work the first building had fallen, and before long the second had come down as well.  I left to look for my wife.

Heading west across Manhattan, the views down the Avenues abruptly vanished into a wall of floating debris.  The first survivor passed me, a man about my age, his thinning blond hair, eyelashes and the shoulders of his blue suit covered in dust.  Others soon followed, shaken and bleary in their dirty clothes.  “I ran down eighty flights,”  one said.  A woman who spoke little English asked me what was going on and I did my best to explain.

I found Amy, we made our way to a friend’s apartment, and from her 12th Street roof we watched as long lines of people made their way out of the cloud that now engulfed the tip of Manhattan.  A few hours later, when the L train returned to service, we made our way home.

To me September 11 will always be New York City’s day.  Most of the world watched it, while we, to wildly varying degrees, lived it.  And while, in the days following, the country seemed to slowly lose it’s mind in some misbegotten quest for retribution, my people were kind.  We dealt with each other gently and helped where we could.  For a short time we opened ourselves to the fragility of life, and it brought out the best in us.  Every year when this day rolls around I do my best to remember that.  The city often helps.

On the first anniversary Amy and I got up very early and walked to work, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge before making our way uptown.  Somewhere on the hushed morning streets of the Lower East Side we passed a young man quietly going about his business.  He just so happened to be dressed as the Statue of Liberty.  He was also painted blue from head to toe.

The following year I went for a drink in the East Village.  It was a sunny afternoon and to get into the bar I had to step over the ugliest bulldog I had ever seen.  He was warming himself in the doorway and, oblivious to my presence, was not inclined to move.  His name was Buckshot.  The neighborhood police had found him tied to a fence, shot and left for dead.  Outraged, they had nursed him back to health before entrusting him to the care of the woman sitting next to me.  As we talked, Buckshot swaggered his way back into the bar, leaving a generous trail of saliva in his wake.  I could see the scars that peppered his hide as he loudly snuffled and nudged his way beneath my stool, damn near tipping me over in the process.  In his mind he owned that bar.  After everything he’d been through, no one was arguing.

And this morning we took Heath to his first full day of  Kindergarten.  This little person whose existence I could not even imagine eight years ago is already starting school.  His equally unimaginable sister has built herself up to a solid three word vocabulary, the most recent addition being, of course, “Heath.”  They know little of that day eight years ago, and yet, for me, they embody its spirit.  Maddening, mercurial, and totally unpredictable, they are my daily, hour by hour, minute by minute reminder that I am always at my best when I slow down, open my eyes, and approach the world gently, helping out whenever I can.  A good lesson easily forgotten.

Luckily, the kids keep me honest.

 

 

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