This excerpt is from a work in progress called “The Day Of & The Days After” about my memories of 9/11. I have rarely seen collective philanthropos embodied as it was in that immediate aftermath.
In 2001, I lived a 15-minute walk due north of the World Trade Center.
For people who were in New York then:
Do you remember how the whole city was sacred?
Do you remember how we took such extraordinary care of each other?
Do you remember how connected we were — how raw and fierce our hearts were?
Below, four pieces:
- A polaroid picture
- An email to friends written a few days after 9/11
- A reposted Associated Press article written about two weeks later
- The poem “September 1, 1939” by W.H. Auden which was a balm for battered spirits in the way that perhaps only poetry can be
I share this as an upload into the digital ether – that fragile cloud which has become our collective memory.
I share this by way of a thank you to the first responders.
I share this because on that day and these many days after, I grapple with what it means to bear witness.
I remember. We remember.
A New Yorker
May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame. -Auden
Day Of: September 11, 2001
This Polaroid was taken from my roof moments after the second tower fell.
I chose to take only one photo during that day, during those weeks.
This is the first time I have ever shared it.
Day 3: September 14, 2001
To: Friends & Family
Just got home. Exhausted.
I’m still living in a cordoned off war zone, I still end up with tears streaming down my face every time I look south or pass a wall of homemade MISSING posters, but today living in New York is one of the most awe-inspiring things in the world.
At the end of the day I headed to the west side highway, a block from my house and a straight shot down to the World Trade Center. The firemen, construction workers, Navy, National Guard, Red Cross, Salvation Army, NYPD, doctors, and everyone else involved in the rescue goes down this road when going on shift and they come back up when their shift ends — exhausted, covered with dirt and ashes.
Throngs, and I mean THRONGS of cheering people line this entire road. At every stoplight there are tents full of people offering up food and water and fruit and hugs to the heroes in vehicles or trudging up the road on foot.
It is becoming my new ritual to go at sunset to help out and also to wave my huge American flag and cheer together with the others. I cheer and cheer until I lose my voice, and clap and clap and clap until my hands sting and shoulder muscles ache. We yell:
Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you over and over and over at the top of our lungs, usually followed by the name of their county or company or department if we can read it:
“Thank you Westchester!”
“Thank you Hoboken!”
“Thank you Red Hook!”
“Thank you NYPD!”
“Thank you Mancelli & Sons!”
I’ve never said thank you so many times in one day, and don’t know if I’ll ever say thank you again without seeing in my mind’s eye the raised arms of the firemen and first responders cheering back at us, honking their horns. Every time a big truck full of debris comes by we all lose it — cheering and crying, just that much closer maybe to finding someone in that mess.
Today, living in New York was a chance to say thank you, to somehow begin to acknowledge and put a smile on the faces of the hundreds of heroes passing by to do what many of us cannot.
It’s now 1 o’clock in the morning, the lightening is crackling, the wind is whipping through the empty streets, the rain has started pouring down. It’s pouring in monsoon sheets and I, biggest rain-lover in the world, I fucking hate it. I’ve never hated a thunderstorm so much as right now because I know it’s fucking everything up, making it dirtier, harder, more dangerous for the rescue teams, packing down the dirt that will harden over people who are maybe now clinging to life just below. The thousands of candles at the memorial are being extinguished, the MISSING posters getting drenched, flying off the walls. Fucking rain. The fucking rain. Stop. Stop. STOP.
On a lighter note, when I was at the candle memorial at Union Square there was this enormously rotund bearded hippie dude with a black cat dancing as everyone sang “Give Peace a Chance.” He was wrapping the cat around his arms, raising the cat up and swinging it to the music and the cat was LOVING it, purring and contentedly twitching its tail. And then — he ATTACHED the CAT to his FACE. The cat had its legs wrapped around the dude’s head and its body was covering the dude’s face as he danced around as if in a Grateful Dead reunion tour parking lot. Interspecies interpretive dance as memorial.
I laughed so hard I cried. And it felt good to cry from laughing.
Oh, New York.
And now my friends, enough. Time to collapse into bed.
But before I sign off, know that I love each of you like love was going out of style.
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Day 13: September 24, 2001
Reposted from the Associated Press
Plane Fuselage Found as Number of Missing Rises
Toiling in the rubble of the World Trade Center, firefighter Paul McGuire said he keeps “waiting for that cheer to ring out where they find someone.” Another weekend passed without that hope being answered.
Instead, the number of missing increased by more than 100 to 6,453 on Sunday, although city officials stressed the number is subject to change.
Rescue workers did find a major part of one of the planes that hit the towers on Sept. 11. A 10-foot piece of jetliner fuselage was loaded onto a golf cart and taken away by federal crime-scene investigators.
The flight recorders, or black boxes, of the hijacked airliners were still missing. Pictures of them were posted throughout the site so rescuers would recognize them.
Sections of twisted steel beams as long as 50 feet were loaded onto flatbed trucks by hydraulic cranes, and search teams scaled 20-story-high ruins to look by hand.
“It’s still a nightmare down there,” said Chris Durso, 23, who laid telephone lines Monday morning. “It’s definitely worse in person than on TV.”
On a humid evening, tourists gathered on streets in lower Manhattan to get a glimpse of the twisted steel. Photos were snapped and souvenirs were bought, like T-shirts and flags.
Nearby, Heather Lord made it her job Sunday night to lift the spirits of rescue workers. As she has every night since Sept. 12, Lord stood near a route used by vehicles carrying search teams to the scene and trucks carrying debris out.
She held a cardboard sign with “Thank You” written in red, white and blue letters, and waved and yelled greetings at each vehicle. The drivers waved back or honked their horns.
Lord said that the rescue workers’ demeanor was one of exhaustion mixed with hope and determination shortly after the twin aerial assaults.
“Now it’s just exhaustion,” she said. “They’re having a rough time of it.”
Rescue workers have not found a survivor since the day after the attacks. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani explained the increase in the missing as a result of continued revisions of missing persons lists.
“The number went up a little bit after they went through the lists, removed some of the duplications and then added some names,” he said. City officials have pointed out the number may fluctuate by hundreds, as authorities review lists from various sources.
Rustie Miller, 26, was operating a stand Sunday night where rescue workers could pick up dust masks, rain ponchos, gloves, food and water.
“This helps keep their morale up, knowing that we’re out here,” Miller said.
More weary residents of lower Manhattan were allowed to return home Sunday and relief agencies encouraged them to ask for government help. More than 8,000 people have applied for aid, according to Mike Byrne of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Hunter Carter lives in one of the apartment buildings in Battery Park City that is still closed due to a lack of electricity.
He said he used to adore his apartment, the view of Ellis Island, walking along the Hudson River waterfront and spending time in Battery Park.
But now there are police officers and military personnel everywhere, and he wants to break his lease and move to a new place.
“This is nothing like the neighborhood I loved,” Carter said. “It is just so sad around here.”
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September 1, 1939
W. H. Auden
I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night. Accurate scholarship can Unearth the whole offence From Luther until now That has driven a culture mad, Find what occurred at Linz, What huge imago made A psychopathic god: I and the public know What all schoolchildren learn, Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return. Exiled Thucydides knew All that a speech can say About Democracy, And what dictators do, The elderly rubbish they talk To an apathetic grave; Analysed all in his book, The enlightenment driven away, The habit-forming pain, Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again. Into this neutral air Where blind skyscrapers use Their full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man, Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse: But who can live for long In an euphoric dream; Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism’s face And the international wrong. Faces along the bar Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home; Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night Who have never been happy or good. The windiest militant trash Important Persons shout Is not so crude as our wish: What mad Nijinsky wrote About Diaghilev Is true of the normal heart; For the error bred in the bone Of each woman and each man Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love But to be loved alone. From the conservative dark Into the ethical life The dense commuters come, Repeating their morning vow; “I will be true to the wife, I’ll concentrate more on my work," And helpless governors wake To resume their compulsory game: Who can release them now, Who can reach the deaf, Who can speak for the dumb? All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die. Defenceless under the night Our world in stupor lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame. - - - - - Much thanks Poets.org