I didn’t expect to cry this morning. And yet somehow the day got to me. Reflections on September 11.
Today is not September 11. I mean, yes, I know that technically, it is September 11. That’s what the calendar says.
Calendars are not always correct.
Today is too humid and cloudy. The temperature is wrong. The air is not the same.
September 11 has a clear blue sky. There is a crispness in the morning air that announces the arrival of fall.
It’s a day when you wear a sweater but you know you won’t need it by the middle of the day, if you’re standing in the sun. It’s the crispness of a Granny Smith apple – slightly jarring and yet refreshing all at the same time.
So, today, with its humid air and cloudy sky, is not September 11.
September 11 doesn’t look like this:
And yet, even though it doesn’t feel like September 11, it’s here. And it’s inescapable.
People will write today about remembering. Some people will write about never forgetting. The truth is that I couldn’t forget if I tried.
September 11 is always here.
It’s here any time I look up and see a clear blue sky.
It’s here whenever I look up and see the Freedom Tower.
It’s here whenever I pass the GM Building at 59th Street and 5th Avenue.
I was a second year associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The CBS morning show was filmed in the ground floor space and I stood on the plaza, frozen, surrounded by colleagues and yet so alone. I thought that my brother was in the towers for a meeting. I watched the buildings I had used as guideposts downtown suddenly disintegrate. And then, my brother was there, next to me. Each time I pass the building, I am back there.
September 11 is here whenever I see a plane that appears to be flying too low.
It’s the feeling in my stomach when I wonder why helicopters are flying overhead. Or when I hear the sirens of fire trucks and ambulances racing to the scene of an accident.
It’s here when I see smoke coming from a building.
Sometimes it’s just here, even when none of these things are present. It’s just lives inside me.
It’s constantly here. Because as much as life moved on, our vulnerability to another attack remains inescapable and completely obvious.
Innocence and Naïveté
Perhaps it is appropriate to pause and remember, because many seem to have forgotten. Or perhaps the lesson wasn’t extreme enough.
We continue to harbor a sense of innocence about our vulnerability to attacks.
In typical reactionary fashion, our government created rules around air travel that are absurdly strict in ways that don’t do much to protect us, while we remain unthinkably vulnerable to attack in other areas.
I have spent considerable time in Israel, where the threat of a terror attack remains a constant presence. Before you enter any public place, you are subject to a search. Movie theaters. Open air markets. Auditoriums. Schools. Houses of worship. Museums.
Also, these places all have single points of entry and exit. They are guarded with vigilance. I took a commuter train from Tel Aviv the last time I was there. I had to clear security — complete with metal detector. I went to an outdoor market. There was one entrance and exit on each end.
Compare that to my experience in New York.
I ride the subway, almost daily.
New York City has the largest subway system in the world and we think that the biggest threat comes from flooding in a hurricane. It’s so naive it’s laughable. If I thought about it too much, I would never get on the subway.
I travel by train quite often, especially in the summer. Neither MetroNorth, Long Island Rail Road nor Amtrak has ever done so much as even a simple bag check on me. Our rail travel is grossly under protected.
I shop weekly at the Union Square Greenmarket. On a Saturday, it is packed with people. A target in the making.
September 11 is with me in all of these places, and more.
I wonder how it is possible that 15 years later nobody thinks about the potential threat from open garbage cans and crowds gathering in public places. I wonder how I can get on an Amtrak train without so much as presenting my ID to anyone.
I wonder whether other people realize how much we are open to an attack, and if, like me, they simply choose to go about life.
Because what choice do we have?
If I thought about it too much, I wouldn’t leave my apartment.
We convince ourselves that we are safe, because we must do so to get through the day.
Falling Man Photo
You know the photo: the man falling from the top of the tower. He had jumped, before the tower collapsed.
It’s described as the only photo from 9/11 of someone dying.
That was interesting to me because I don’t see it as a photo of death.
I have always seen it as a photo of life.
This is a photo of a man who took his his fate in his own hands. He decided that he would not remain at the top of the tower and crumble to the earth to land in a heap of steel and glass.
He chose to jump. He tested the powers of gravity. He took flight.
In the face of certain death, he chose how to use his last remaining moments on this earth. He went out on his own terms.
To me, this is the ultimate expression of life.
And so, today, this is what I choose: to live. Not to live in fear of what might come, or to resign myself to what is inevitable, but rather to live fully, knowing that whatever may come, I have this moment and I can seize it.
How will you live your life today?