Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th, ten years later

For the last couple of days I've been immersing myself in a lot of the immediate coverage that followed the terrorist attacks ten years ago.  It's hard not to watch the footage without a rock in my stomach.  The newscasters' fumbling narration in real time, the background whine of sirens that seemed so feeble in the face of such destruction. 

When I think about my life, I tend to believe that the Modern Era -- that is, adulthood -- began when I graduated college and moved to New York in 2002.  September 11th occurred during the first few weeks of my senior year at UVA.  My memories of that day are stark and clear, and many of the people with whom I experienced that day are still deeply involved in my life (most especially, my wife).  When I arrived in New York months later that experience was still burned onto the short-term memory of the city.  Every summer hordes of young people arrive in the city determined to start their lives, and I felt proud to be part of the first wave of new arrivals following the attacks.  Yet I also felt like an interloper -- someone who skips the funeral but attends the reception afterwards.

Living in the city has given me a new intimacy with the events of that day, a new understanding of the geography of grief.  I used to run by Ground Zero all the time when we lived downtown.  My wife's old workplace was near the scene of a major staging area for the first responders.  The same hospital where the victims were sent, where Cardinal Egan stood outside administering last rites to the dead and dying, is where my daughter was born.

Today L and I took Alice downtown to get out of the house and go eat at a burger joint from back home.  Impromptu memorials had been established all around the old neighborhood, in front of firehouses, along the chain-link fence where people have hung dozens of ceramic tiles commemorating that day.  On the subway we saw many law enforcement personnel in dress uniform.  We saw people who had come from the major memorial service, relatives of the victims, including someone who wore a badge identifying them as a reader of the names.  I felt frivolous sitting there in my shorts with my soda, frivolous and irreverent in the face of their grief and the tragedy this city -- now my city -- endured. 

And yet life goes on.  Just like ten years ago, this weekend felt like one of the last vanishing weekends of summer.  Today Alice enjoyed her french fries and milkshake, and she was smiling and chatty for her momma and daddy.  Events that were unthinkable ten years ago have somehow been folded into our understanding of ourselves and our home, and we all move forward, more or less, with an even keel.  Resilience and grief, change and memory, ever forward, ever forward.

No comments: