Posts Tagged ‘World Trade Center

11
Sep
18

The hole in the sky

Seventeen years today…

I chose to remember joy, even though my heart aches for the losses.

For the hole in the sky.

For the people I mourn.

For an America that was less fractured by revenge, less intent on unraveling progress, less mean in its pursuit of something tangible that has seemingly been lost.

11
Sep
15

I prefer to remember joy and wonder …

I prefer to remember joy and wonder …

Philippe Petite (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in TriStar Pictures' THE WALK.

I work downtown again.

The first time since the summer of 2001.

WWcentreMy office was at the Woolworth Building then and the Towers were my backyard. A place I’d run to to catch the subway, dart into a Children’s Place to pick up little things for my daughter, or to peruse the aisles at Borders Bookstore.

126135735535_338b65ceaf_o.0Early that summer, I took my team to lunch at Windows on the World at the top of the North Tower (Building One).

It was a languid lunch, with one of our number who’d moved on coming in to meet with us. We sat by a window looking east towards Brooklyn, marveling at the view, the company, and the chance to take a break during the day.

IMG_1286revisedI think of this because when I walk along Fulton Street heading to or from my new office on Gold Street, I am always surprised by the absence of the Twin Towers.

Perhaps I’ll get used to it one day and even catch site of it without a sharp intake of breath as a measurement of the loss I still feel.

But even if each and every sight of it for the rest of my life causes a momentary pause, I’ll also always remember the joy and wonder of Phillipe Petit walking between the Towers on his tight rope.

That and my lunch with the Imagine crew sustains me when I otherwise expect to see the view that never ceased to captivate me–nor burn an ember in my heart by its absence.

12
Jan
15

Day by day by day … je suis humaine

Day by day by day … je suis humaine

Summer 2014, Harrison, Maine. Photo: Malissa Smith

I’ve been attempting to work through the recent terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newsweekly—and thereby attempt, in some small way to write about it.

For the French, the three days of carnage beginning with the horrific murder of 12 staff members, including four renowned cartoonists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, by Said and Cherif Kouachi, has been an agonizing period of anxiety and pain. In all, 17 people were horribly murdered including a young policewoman, a jogger and four shoppers in a Kosher supermarket who were all apparently gunned down by another in the Kouachi brother’s “terrorist cell,” Amedy Coulibaly.

For those of us in New York who lived through the experience of the World Trade Center terror attack on September 11, 2001, there is an acute understanding of the almost out-of-body dissociation one can feel living through the moment-by-moment experiences of that sort of horror. We are, after all, merely ordinary, perhaps showing courage in our daily lives, and perhaps not, but certainly not prepared for the kind of terror that a Kalashnikov wielding “crazy” brings.

New York City street sceneIf I am being disingenuous at all, it is in the sense that we people who live in cities do come to understand that there are those intangibles: Cars that suddenly veer off and cause havoc and death in a restaurant storefront, or the running gun play of teens that may careen in through a window, putting a small child in harms way. Not to mention, the daily violence in families that spill out into “social services” pretty much unnoticed except for the truly horrific ones that end up on the covers of the tabloids. Still, those truly terrifying experiences do not seem to equate with the other kind of sudden violence in the cocoon of our western democracies—and go against our sense of decency, right and wrong, and collectively at least, if not individually, our sense that such things as cartoons that satirize religion and politics, are just this side of “okay” in the scheme of things, even if they tend to be on the edge or even over the line of distasteful. What they are not, are killing offenses by self-proclaimed executioners in the name of one ideological or religious belief or another.

What I keep asking myself is this. Are our beliefs really that tenuous? Are they that uncertain, that a cartoon, really, a cartoon can be so offensive as to warrant the murder of 12 people?

I write that having figured that if what I believe is strong and certain, I, me, the individual, can well afford to be magnanimous in accepting that others may not agree or share my point of view. Thus I would never consider that the words of another would so shake me to the core of my being that I would jump at the chance to “right” the perceived “wrong” by choosing to kill as many nonbelievers as I could as I made my way to whatever Valhalla I figured I was entitled to for my “acts.”

The giant, “ugh” aside—at any given moment on our beautiful earth, just such things occur day by day by day in both religious and sectarian struggles all the in the name of a greater something or other. Or, to bring down to the ground, even to the level of a power struggle between two partners where one feels the right to bash the other senseless in the name of being “right.”

Paris march, January 11, 2015, Credit: Time MagazineAnd while it was heartening to know that 3.7 million persons marched in Paris yesterday in solidarity to reaffirm the principles of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Freedom and Fraternity), I am fearful of the backlash to terrorism that can just as easily sweep through to give us yet more examples of the ugliness of revenge on the ordinary, the “us” that is not quite us that devolves into further violence and extremism.

It is the misadventure of well-intentioned reactions that scares me just as much as the acts of terrorism themselves. And having lived through the daily miasma of misery inflicted on ordinary citizens caught in the cross fire of acts for and against terrorism, I remain fearful—and perhaps the tiniest bit cynical about what the future will bring.

My best self, however, knows that just such ideals as freedom and peace and love live on anyway.

After all, in the midst of acts of terror the world over, two-alarm fires, police slowdowns, and the kind of cold that almost demands that one turn over after the alarm goes off to burrow that much deeper under the covers, by 10:30 AM this past Saturday morning, Gleason’s Gym was full of men and women in varying stages of their workouts. A quick glance showed the Give A Kid A Dream youngsters shadowboxing alongside boxing professionals in front of the mirror, amateur fighters putting in rounds ahead of the Golden Gloves, and fighters sparring in all of Gleason’s four boxing rings.

For me, sweaty from five great rounds sparring with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, the scary fever dreams of terror were suitably buried in one recess of my mind or another. And while I have shed tears for the victims, and will likely go to Synagogue this Friday in solidarity with the French victims at the kosher supermarket in Paris, I will try hard to push forward with a smile, with little thought given to the crazies with Kalashnikovs. They are, despite their seeming out-sized appearances, a really, really tiny portion of the world, which is mostly occupied by persons going about their day in the struggles that define us.

Leastways, that is what I hope for, even if the blue meanies hit me square in the nose sometimes with darker thoughts. Oh well. Je suis humaine.

 

10
Sep
14

13 years …

13 years …

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The Twin Towers in July 1983, with New Yorkers taking in the sun on the beach created by the WTC landfill.                      Photo by Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Sometimes I just can’t breathe if I think about it for too long.

Not only is it the towers, but in remembering the landscape when it was possible to walk on the landfill beach at the edge of the Hudson where it felt more like an end of the world place than a city. A landscape inspired by Fellini, in a New York that still had roughened edges with none of the cleanliness of our current patina of Disneyesque public spaces.

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Still from Frederico Fellini’s 8-1/2

Yes. Life moves along. But for some of us the Twin Towers still informs out sense of who we are in a world that seems to have become that much meaner in the void of their absence.

As always, I choose peace.

 

11
Sep
11

Ten years on …

Ten years on …

My first memory of the Twin Towers was of watching their construction caught in snippets while walking downtown.  It wasn’t  until construction was completed in April of 1973 that the buildings became something special to me.

I was walking in the village on a foggy evening.  One of those late spring nights with a warm dusting of rain that permeated the air with hints of the summer to come.  Walking down Bleecker Street crossing Sullivan I happend to look south and literally did a dead stop as I took in the magnificence of the two towers alight with a soft glow as they rose up into the mist.  There was something about the image of these two remarkable modern edifices set against the low buildings of the Village that created an indelible picture in my mind; one that I sought out over the years standing on that same spot to reclaim some of the magic of that first vision.

And those buildings did have magic.  The kind of magic that brought Philippe Petit all the way from France to walk between the towers if for no other reason than because they were they.

They were there — a seeming touchstone to my New Yorkness; to the New York I had created for myself all those years ago, standing on Sullivan Street at the threshold to my adulthood.

The towers stood there when I saw them from my grandmother’s kitchen window in Far Rockaway or every time I flew into Kennedy airport or walked across the Brooklyn Bridge or the day I shot several rolls of film photographing them, or the days I’d go to grab a sandwich there after I started working at the Woolworth Building.  All are memories that live as separate pictures in my mind.  Of seeing the buildings in the distance or as enormous edifices that seemed to rise forever as I stood at their edges staring up.

My last vision of them was seeing them on fire through my daughter’s window. And then they simply disappeared in clouds of terrible smoke and ash that lingered for months in our mouths and in our clothing.  A soot and smell that sickened us and killed our hearts.

That ash contained all of our memories and like a sacred fire, the tiny fragments of all of those lives that had been lost.

I truly can’t look at downtown without feeling the hole in the sky.  Even ten years on, I ache for those buildings as a lover who mourns the loss of an old dear friend, only in this case I also feel the loss of friends, colleagues and friends of friends who perished.  I feel the special pain that all New Yorkers feel for the people who died trying to help others escape.  That too is a hole that will never really heal — especially since day by day, those who came to help get sicker and sicker.

Perhaps I reserve the biggest hole in my heart for the lose of the America I loved — we weren’t quite as mean and angry then, and didn’t carry the outward signs of terrible vengeance.  Maybe we always did harbor a streak of Old Testament wrathfulness, but it just didn’t seem as apparent.  I’m sorry for that loss too.

My New Yorkness has had to adjust itself to the new skyline — just as my Americanness has had to adjust to endless war, Guantanamo Bay, financial meltdowns and the realities of the Tea Party.  None sit easily with me, but ever the optimist, I hope for a better day.

Ten years on, I admit to getting on with things and not keeping the memories as fresh wounds that endlessly bleed, still, if I happen to watch a movie from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, I feel an incredible ache as I catch sight of their magnificence once more.




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