Once in Every Twenty Years

September 11, 2021

I hadn’t planned to do this.

For decades now, I’ve avoided the entire subject, especially on the anniversary.

Of course, I have my story of that day. It lacks the heroic, life-taking/life-saving efforts of the police, fire and EMT professionals and, blessedly, it lacks the death of anyone I  know. I spent that day 5 miles north, in Midtown, working phones to let people know their friends and colleagues were safe and trying to locate the few people I knew who worked below Chambers Street.

Even at the time, the day struck me as a series of improbable cinematic images. A mass exodus from Manhattan on foot that looked like an urban version of the partition scene in Gandhi. Non-stop caravans of vehicles with flashing lights and blaring sirens tearing south on every Avenue. One of my oldest friends walking through the door of my office, covered head-to-toe in the dust of the collapsing Towers. Watching the President speak while pounding boilermakers in a bar on Third Avenue. The eerily empty 7 train and the Q36 bus driver at Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street waving away my MetroCard, his eyes damp, saying, “Let’s just get home, man.”

I’ve avoided all that, at least to the extent you can avoid what is forever burned into your brain.

The fact is, I was numb that day. Perhaps I’ve been numb most of my life.

My mother was dying. Just two months later she’d be gone. My kid sister, the baby who bore the burden of being the third kid after my brother succumbed to childhood leukemia, had passed away in April, three weeks after turning thirty. I was deeply immersed in the details of shuttering the agency office I was running, knowing that well before year’s end I’d have put most of the colleagues I’d worked with for years out of a job.

I couldn’t feel. I can’t feel. Not the way everyone else seems to.

So what could I possibly add? @TomJunod found some meaning telling the story of The Falling Man. Matthew C. Rees found echoes and parallels in another tale that occurred the same day but in a different time at a different place. Tim Alberta, tells the story of his cousin, Glenn Vogt, the manager of Windows on the World who, because he was late, survived and who, because he survived, struggles to find meaning.

It’s Vogt I understand most.

I may not feel much. But I see and I care and I worry. I see how some people I know were forever changed by that day. I care enough to remain in touch and try, usually unsuccessfully,  to reconnect them to the part of themselves they allowed to die that day. I worry that the demons released twenty years ago have led us as a nation to where we are now.

And I pray for us all.




2 thoughts on “Once in Every Twenty Years

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