9/11: Past, Present and Beyond

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We were living in Brooklyn for the 10 year anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks, and I wrote a blog post that weekend on my experience. I dug it out to share pieces of it with you today.

On the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks, I found myself at a Brooklyn Catholic Mass. As we approached the anniversary, the wounds stung in the hearts of the country. It is felt all over with acute pain, but here in New York they saw the smoke in the sky, they stood in their streets watching it rise. Here in New York they knew the people that worked in those towers and performed the service of going in to search for the living, and the dead.

I was new to writing. I was new to motherhood and adulthood and my neighborhood. I was living in a strange city, one I simultaneously hated and adored, and I was trying to connect.

 As I sat on my stoop yesterday, Maria, my landlord’s wife, shared a few memories with me about the event.

She is not one to mince words. She is a matter-of-fact, Italian-Catholic with jet-black hair and eyes almost as dark. She is an immigrant to this country, and she is a Brooklynite to the core. She was pregnant with her son Anthony when the 9/11 attacks occurred. She was the one to tell me she could see the smoke from the impact of the planes. Then, as the dust began to settle, so did the debris. It settled as far as our street.

She watched people flock to the churches, crying for mercy and understanding. She watched anger and resentment wash away — it was replaced by deep and confusing wounds. She hoped people would see why they need a saviour and she told me she secretly knew that most of them would forget.

This is the way I will always remember Maria. Her stern, serious face turned outward, watching her street from the top step of her stoop, hair braided to fight frizz and heat, hands gently clasped in front of her. I knew I was not that kind of woman — she was black and white, I lived often in the murky gray area.

We were different, unique, not better or worse, and I was still learning what that meant.

When the attacks happened, I was sixteen-years-old. I was floundering, lost in my own world. I had never really felt the impact of this global war we are in. 9/11 was the first time I really saw the horror and senselessness bred by ignorance. It was hatred illustrated in a tangible way. It did that for all of us. It opened our eyes to the reality that we are not immune to terror, we are not isolated, and we are not untouchable. In this world we are unsuccessfully trying to share, we can be hit, we can be shocked.

We will never forget 9/11, we can’t, but there is a whole generation of children who did not know the time before, who only know now. They never got to meet someone at the airport arrival gate, they never saw the New York skyline with those towers shining in the sun. We will never forget the moment the towers were hit, but they will never a know a time when they weren’t.

The Stoop Life: Sam and his buddy, age 2
The Stoop Life: Sam and his buddy, age 2

If current events are any indication, they will never know a time without war. They will grow up fast. They will get their news from Twitter because sometimes that is more reliable. They will breathe air that is more polluted, but maybe they will drive cars that are kinder to the environment. They will have less wild land to explore, but more options for affordable housing.

We will watch them grow up while we are still growing up ourselves.

So, today, we went to Mass at our landlord’s church. We went to remember this tragedy and the hope that came out of it, with people who felt it deeply, with people who watched it happen on their stoops and from their balconies.

There were elements of Mass that I will never understand, and don’t need to, but I am not threatened by what I do not understand. I wouldn’t be here, in New York or at Mass, if I were.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy I got a chance to do something the people who took down the towers will never get to do — share in an expression of faith that is different from my own, and see it as no less valid.

I lived two years in New York City, and I discovered the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves. I have watched people I love be unwilling to change, and become lesser for it, while others have overcome impossible hurdles, transforming themselves, changing lives around them. have changed in ways that are terrifying and breathtaking, that are obvious and personal and none of your business.

It is not enough to Never Forget. It was a national tragedy, but since 9/11 there have been tragedies beyond measure all across the world. There has always been war. There has always been terror. These are not things we can prevent on a grand scale. It begins with you, and me, and here and now.

We are the post-9/11 heroes.

 

 

 

New York City Rematch

Today I am writing you from New York City. When we moved away from Brooklyn two — yikes almost three — months ago, I wondered when I would come back. Moving back to Texas was a bag of mixed emotions and fears for me. Going home again is supposed to be off limits, or so Thomas Wolfe said. He meant this metaphorically, because when leave, you change and so home is different by your changing.

Being back in Texas has been being home again. I reacquainted myself with old haunts. I have taken aimless drives around the rolling, grassy farmlands and through old neighborhoods. I have watched horses frolic in the dawn light after a rain.

I have also finished the most grueling revision of my MS so far.

It has been right to be home again, so when I decided to come to New York, I was leery. Ruffled. My panties and my feathers were in a bunch. More than anything, New York was where I found myself. It was where my husband, son and I branched out on our own to see what we could do. It was prosperous, but also it forced examination, and forced all of us to learn better who we could be. (Yes, even my darling, three year old, Sam.)

When we left, we were ready to go,and I was afraid that the identity forged in New York — the one where I learned I was really a writer —would vanish. Like identity could be removed by a location change.

I do think that is something the City convinces you of, if only in retrospect. That you cannot leave lest you abandon the hope of a future.

When we arrived last night, I was filled with that same nervous energy that first found me three years ago: on my first visit to New York City. It is a powerful thing, standing in the City, feeling the possibility of it pulse around you like a living, breathing organism. You become part of that possibility.

Today I write you from New York City because I go to Random House for author events and mingling. No, I’m not taking a meeting there, but maybe someday. Mainly, if I’m being entirely honest, I am going to see Lauren Graham. Lorelei Gilmore. I will not even pretend to be cool about this. Not even the tiniest shred.

We also came to keep channels open to bosses and agents and all those we love up here. And therein lies the point to it all. We are planted where we are planted, but our branches can extend over state lines and city sky scrapers.

The view from my hotel room.
The view from my hotel room.

It’s going to be a beautiful day in the City.

New York City Braces

When we moved to New York City, I don’t remember expecting to deal with two hurricanes, an earthquake, and tornados in the span of fifteen months. Under the threat of Sandy, we have all begun to prep for war, it would seem. We gather our ammunition against the storm (candles, flashlights, lanterns); we gather our sustenance (canned, food, bread, water); we fill our tubs and pots for clean bathing water should the lines be shut off.

We prepare because it is the only thing we can possibly do when faced with a storm so much larger and so much wilder than we are. When a storm rages at sea, and the sea consumes land for it’s supper. We are forced to watch and wonder and scramble for safety because that gives our fear purpose. It is what we must do. As a believer, I do something else though. I pray. I petition the one who sees all storms as small and manageable that He would remember my family in the midst of it.

I do not hide behind the belief, I allow it to support me as I stack my cans of food and set out my candles to light. I remember that the earth rages with dangers, and natural disasters are no more than that. They are natural to a world weakened by its many years. They are something we cannot escape, but we have to face. Whether that means we heed the warnings of our city officials and evacuate, or we hunker down in our home with more food than we need and enough batteries to last out a zombie apocalypse. (Though should Sandy bring flesh-eaters to the shores of Brooklyn, I fear I am ill-prepared to fight them.)

Today, as the winds began to pick up, and the windows were splattered with the spit of rain, I sat in a tent in our playroom with three kids. I made smores and told fables and pretended the storm was a backdrop for fantasy. The storm was an excuse to stay still, to imagine. Life goes on in the midst of a storm, and that is how you triumph. You move wisely. If the tumult tosses you, you regain your footing. You allow the fear and the certainty of your mortality to give you strength. And then you snack, you watch movies while the electricity is still on, you make sure all your electronics are charged, and you wait for the storm to pass. You can try to fight it, or ignore it, but in a storm, the best thing to do is just to weather it.

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