Sunday, September 11, 2011
I also remember the long streaks of smoke that filled the sky and lingered for days, and the accompanying stench. Photos and descriptions of missing loved ones filled Grand Central Station and Ground Zero. The hole at Ground Zero was walled off, but one saw what one could. The vultures were down there too, hawking 9/11 “souvenirs.” I had a different perspective across the East River on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. There I sensed the gaping hole in the skyline.
I saw more flags displayed around the city than ever before. I put a little flag in my car’s rear window and a passerby said, “Thank you for that.” Walking by a firehouse, also in Brooklyn Heights, I said, “Thank you, guys” to the firefighters.
I felt that I was living on the front line of a threat that might strike at any time, above or under the ground. Perhaps a bridge would be blown up while I was driving on it. Perhaps a blast would occur on the subway. The best coping advice I heard was on a local news broadcast. Someone interviewed on the street said, “Stay in the present moment, go with the flow.”
A colleague of mine who was working at the World Trade Center managed to escape, walking for miles. Two others I know lost loved ones, one a firefighter who, like so many, went to rescue people and never returned. The senseless loss of so many thousands, of course, was the most horrendous robbery of all–a crime against humanity.
There was a unity then, a shared sense of outrage, courage, sadness, vulnerability and fear. The unity didn’t last.
The Bush administration used 9/11 to launch an invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with this atrocity. The Patriot Act included measures that amounted to an unprecedented intrusion on civil liberties, including accessing library records. In our “war on terror,” we became a nation that sanctioned and employed torture, still defended today by Dick Cheney.
The country became at least as polarized as during the Vietnam war era, if not more. The political divisions have only grown since, epitomized by a dysfunctional political system and constituencies whose assumptions of what this country is about have nothing in common. In that way, too, 9/11 robbed us all.