Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Gone...

The time signature on this post is going to be wonky- I started writing it last night.

It's unusual that I suffer from a spell of writer's block, but this is one of those occasions in which words fail. Jenn of Ark, Vacuumslayer, and Johnny Pez all have good pieces up, and Paul Krugman's piece really hits home.

I wrote a draft with a recap of what I did on the day of the attacks, but wasn't satisfied with it. I'm just going to throw out a few impressions of the attacks and the aftermath.

The one thing that really hit home for me was that many of the victims were in my age cohort, and a lot of them were just starting families of their own. I could not get past thinking of all of the orphans, many of them posthumous births, resulting from the attacks. The guy I knew who perished in the towers, the brother of a young lady I knew from my Saturday morning volunteer gig, was 28, and the world was his oyster- he was doing well in his career, he was part owner (along with his brother) of a popular bar, he was a terrific athlete, an all-around great guy. The thought of him dying could not have been further from my mind, the sight of his lovely, gracious sister's face contorted by grief still hits me from time to time. He shouldn't be dead, he should be hanging out with the rest of us on a Saturday morning, shooting the breeze with the other coaches before the kids' classes begin, maybe even bringing his kids with him. The guy I knew who perished from cancer a few years after the attacks was a kid I'd coached, whose entire family I knew. A clean-living nationally ranked fencer, he died of lung cancer, the result of his being trapped under a van while a cloud of toxic debris swirled around the vicinity. He died shortly after the birth of his child, and a bunch of attendees at the memorial service made his brothers promise to bring their niece to us on Saturday mornings, in order to keep up the tradition. Both of these guys went about their business on what should have been a routine weekday. They were conscientious guys, professionals who were just starting to get established.

I know the father of another victim, a firefighter who died in the collapse of the buildings. The son was one of those people who you loved to hear stories about- he was an adventurer, a guy who'd done a stint in the armed services, had traveled extensively, then joined the FDNY because he craved a life of action. I see his father every year at the big NY Open Judo tournament, and he's lost his spark, there's a void in his life that will never be rectified.

Another friend of long standing, a gruff guy from Queens (now living in Jersey) who was a boxing coach for the program I coach judo for, got all of his co-workers out of the buildings. Although the occupants of the buildings were told to stay put, he wasn't having any of that. He told everybody in the office to leave, then he went to both men's and women's bathrooms, yelling, "Get the hell out of the building, don't bother to flush, don't even bother to wipe your ass!" That's the kind of guy he is, no-nonsense, typical Noo Yawk attitude. All of his people got out alive, but he'll never be the same- he doesn't even travel into Manhattan these days.

The days after the attacks were characterized by the numbness of residual shock- at work, our office took in displaced workers from our office in lower Manhattan. I worked in an office that handled Workers' Compensation claims, and many of our claims were death claims. There were long lines at local blood banks when we all thought that there would be more wounded victims of the attacks. In the evenings, there were memorial services. I went to downtown Manhattan in early October to visit a friend, and there was a three-story high mound of smoking rubble dominating the streetscape, and many of the streets were closed.

In the aftermath of the attacks, there were certain developments that gave me misgivings, attacks on innocent people in places like Arizona, the weird way that Iraq was injected into the public discourse, even the use of the word "homeland". We all know how that all turned out.

Ten years later, talking with tourists who want to tour "Ground Zero", I have to wonder what the fascination is. I know that some people want to use the attacks as a cudgel with which to browbeat anyone who dissents from their view of society. Even well-meaning people have this creepy fascination with the narrative- while in Maine with family this summer, a very nice woman and her daughter, upon hearing that we were from New York, asked if we had visited Ground Zero. My uncle sighed, shook his head, and said, "I've been to twenty-six funerals, why would I want to visit the place my friends were killed?"

Ten years later, the attacks still resonate with many people. I didn't watch any of the coverage of the memorial, but I'll probably trek down to the memorial park sometime in the near future. For me, though, the memories will come periodically, I'll see friends who lost their brother or their son, I'll see the widow and child of a friend. No need to watch the public memorials, the dead are best remembered by serving the living.

Sorry if I've rambled, this hasn't been the easiest post to write.


Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

I wish more people viewed 9/11 as a tragedy and nothing more. Not as symbol of anything other than the sadness that death causes. Not as a political rallying cry. Not as this huge THING. It was SAD because people like you lost other people. Thats really all that needs to be said.

Laura said...

Wow. Beautifully told.
I only knew of one person that died that day. A friend of a friend that had gone to the the U.S. a few years earlier when he married an American. But.. he was a real a-hole so, I don't have any nice stories to tell about him. However... he was still somebody's son and husband.

I was newly pregnant with my daughter and I spent the next day or two in bed, just watching the tv. It was like an obsession! I was so scared. Suddenly, craziness was happening here - so close to home.

I'm so sorry for you and others like you that lost friends and people that you knew did not deserve to die that way. No one deserves that, really. We do all that we can to live a good, healthy life (exclude my homemade doughnuts please) and you just never know what can be waiting around the corner for you.

I only hope that nothing like that ever happens again. :(


Substance McGravitas said...

Ten years later, talking with tourists who want to tour "Ground Zero", I have to wonder what the fascination is.

I have avoided the area. It's easy for me to believe, though, that some visits are by people looking for some "proof" of the drama that went on in their own fantasy city of New York. Since Manhattan occupies an enormous part of the mental landscape of anybody who's read, watched TV or what have you, confirmation for rubes that The Myth Is So has got to be very hard to resist, even if it's so vulgar and vampiric.

And then of course there are fucking jerks.

Jennifer said...

The hardest posts to write take longer to marinate. This one was worth it.

I don't know if you saw my response to your comment on my post, but you've pretty much hit the nail on the head with this...this is exactly what I meant when I said I just feel like 9/11 should be something that belongs to those who actually lost people. Too many of those who didn't have sullied the event in various and sundry ways for anyone else to "claim" it.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I know that some people want to use the attacks as a cudgel with which to browbeat anyone who dissents from their view of society.

Even worse are those who used the attacks to manipulate public opinion for power and profits.

Very well-written, BBBB.

Hamish Mack said...

Yeah, it's great, BBBB.