Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Day That Everything Changed

September 11 is perhaps the third date in American history requiring no year, July 4 and December 7 being the others. It also is the only of the three that I lived through and like virtually everyone touched by the horrific events of that day, found my life changed forever.

That is perhaps a rash statement for someone who was 75 miles from Ground Zero on that gloriously sunny morning and was blithely unaware that the earth had moved until I walked into the mountain retreat where I found my love cowering in bed, head between her legs and arms around her ankles, as the man on National Public Radio said something about a second plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and that the South Tower, where I had taken my young children and out-of-town visitors to the observation deck, had collapsed.

We didn't have a television at the mountain retreat (and still don't have one), so it was impossible -- bloody impossible -- to picture those two immense totems to capitalism crumbling into the ground. It wasn't until that evening when we joined Michael, an English friend who as a child had endured the London Blitz, that we saw on CNN that the towers had indeed collapsed. The Happy Hour crowd at this bar, equal parts bikers and businessmen, watched the same video clips over and over in stunned silence. Michael and I tried to get drunk but failed.

A day later my love and I were preparing to sell her late parents' home in northernmost New Jersey, which is about 10 miles from the George Washington Bridge. Even that far from Ground Zero, the air was redolent with the stench of the toxic cocktail that we have since come to understand that a jetliner laden with 10,000 gallons of highly volatile aviation fuel meeting a 110-story skyscraper can produce. Like the napalm I inhaled in war, it is a smell that I shall take with me to my grave.

Air Force fighter jets sortied overhead as we swept off the back deck and otherwise made the grounds tidy for a real estate agent. As evening fell, we could bear it no longer. We had to see for ourselves. We passed through the George Washington tolls and took the bridge's upper deck as we always do when going into the city. Even though the World Trade Center is a goodly distance away, its towers still dominate the Manhattan skyline.

But when we turned to look down the Hudson River as we had countless times before, the towers were not there. The towers were gone!

* * * * *
I vaguely knew one person who perished on 9/11. Then there was our friend Phil, a stockbroker who worked in the shadow of the towers and, along with tens of thousands of others people, stumbled from his office building into streets choked with pedestrians blindly trying to find their way to safety.

In one of the countless acts of kindness that day, the skippers of the ferry boats tied up at the Hudson piers blew their foghorns, the only compass point in the clouds of dust and debris that had blotted out the sun. Phil followed the foghorns until he reached the river. He turned uptown and walked 120 blocks to his apartment in Morningside Heights. Somewhere along the way he lost a shoe. He keeps its mate on the mantle of his fireplace as a reminder.

* * * * *
When I took up blogging six years ago, two of my primary focuses were the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq, which of course are attached at the hip because of two men -- Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. It was not enough that over 3,000 people died on 9/11. Many tens of thousands more, including 6,500 American men and women, were to be slaughtered in Iraq in the following years because of their mendacity, and the blood continues to flow.

There is another overarching connection between 9/11 and Iraq -- the torrent of lies that Rumsfeld, Cheney and George Bush told in all their hubristic glory.

I have written often of these lies, as well as the abuses of power and the eager adoption of torture because, you know, the democratic principles and rule of law that had gotten American through countless crises and wars over the last two centuries were somehow just not up to the job.

But on this day all thoughts of mendacity and hubris are to be put aside. Today is for the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones. Please take a moment to remember and honor them. And give your loved ones a big hug.
Katie Day Weisberger for The New York Times

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