Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years On

Five years ago tonight, I was out meeting friends on a Monday after work -- I don’t remember for what; dinner or a comedy show, probably -- and walked to the subway afterwards in a torrential downpour. It was one of those storms when you initially lament not having an umbrella before giving in and getting soaked, almost taking joy in it, turning it into a leisurely stroll and rescuing some pleasure from the uncommon sensation provided by a half-inch of water between your feet and the soles of your shoes.

Of course, I might not remember that soggy night, or the striking blue morning that followed it, so vividly if it weren’t for the historical nature of that particular September 11. I had only been back in the northeast for a year at that point (almost exactly), and I spent the next several days, like about a million others, I suppose, grappling with whether I wanted my short-term future to unfold here. After spending some time alternately mourning and scared out of my mind, questioning the wisdom of working two blocks from Rockefeller Center when they were finding anthrax there, I made the decision to stay without really making it at all. My thinking certainly wasn’t based on the tough-guy ethos of “these colors don’t run.” (Those who know me would probably place “tough guy” somewhere beneath "four-star chef" on a list that describes me, and I can barely turn on a stove. I still think the most accurate description of my state of mind in the days after came when I told a friend, sometime around September 13: "I want to rent a car, put in my Son Volt CDs, and drive to Texas to see my mom." I didn't do that, but still: Pretty tough, eh?)

It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true -- having been lucky enough not to know anyone personally affected by the massacre that day, I was (eventually) grieving for the city as an abstract entity more than I was grieving for individual people. Don’t get me wrong, this was an eventual reaction. Initially, I would find myself at a Brooklyn bar, trying to pay distracting attention to a Mets game, and would find myself crying for real people, tears I wouldn’t have conjured so easily if I was trying to forget footage of, say, a mudslide halfway across the world (in that way, the sadness I felt was also for belonging to a species more than willing to consciously create its own disasters for the most specious of reasons).

Five years later, I have nothing original to say about that day (almost no one does, so I wish the parade of hacks who try at this time every year would just stop already; it's time to come up with a phrase for the print equivalent of a "talking head" -- "writing hand"?), but I do have one overwhelming feeling, and that is disgust at the lack of a proper memorial. It seems clearer to me now that my favorite abstract entity, when it comes to the big things, can’t be beat. And the personal, generous gestures in the immediate aftermath were not astonishing to someone who grew up near here, but for outsiders they certainly put to bed many myths about the cold, rude heart of this place. But when it comes to the small things, to quieting the din of competing commercial interests in order to simply acknowledge a wound, to the human-scale-social and not the grand-social, maybe a smaller place is the place to be. Oklahoma City, a city many New Yorkers wouldn’t hesitate to decry as an outpost of God-zealous rubes, proposed a design for its famous memorial a little more than two years after its own massive tragedy, and so now, in the space where its residents witnessed mindlessness, they’ve created a pocket of mindfulness. We’ll build a giant skyscraper on Ground Zero, with a tactful memorial tucked somewhere in the base of its shadow, and I suppose that’s defiant, but it doesn’t strike me as wise. This strikes me as wise:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. I would probably have an opinion if I thought on it enough, but it sort of feels like I shouldn't have an opinion. I think the nature of any memorial should be left up to the City of NYers. It sort of feels like I'd be opining on what someone else's family should do for the funeral after their father has died.

-- Comish

5:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home