Letter From New York May 31, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Over the Memorial Day weekend my brother Joe and his friend Deb came to visit me in the city and we did everything we could to make it a New York weekend. We wandered the city, did a rickshaw ride through Central Park, went to see Jersey Boys on Broadway, went to very good restaurants, Redeye Grill and Capsouto Freres and Café du Soleil. We walked the streets, took taxis here and there and soaked in the beautiful weather.

It was hard not to be thinking of the military this weekend, what with it being Memorial Day and it also being Fleet Week and the city full of sailors and Marines, all marching through the town in crisp uniforms, unfailingly polite and looking oh so young while some, for reasons I can only imagine, also seemed so old, looks in their faces that spoke of what they had seen. One such young man was on the train with me on Thursday morning coming up from Washington, D.C. He was a Marine, carrying his kit with him, a face both impossibly young and impossibly old, eyes that burned, making me wonder what they had witnessed. It was a face that marked itself into my mind and will be with me for a long, long, long time.

We also walked around the area near Ground Zero, seeing the hole from which, slowly, is arising the new World Trade Center. We passed a listing of those who had died there, the first name, whose last name started with a double “a” was actually the son of a friend of my brother’s, a moment that made 9/11 even more real than it already was. We walked up Broadway and stopped at St. Paul’s Chapel, mere steps really from Ground Zero. On that day everything around it was destroyed but it endured. George Washington worshiped there during the months that New York was the nation’s capital. Since 9/11 it has become a shrine to that time, that moment in history. In the days and months following 9/11 it became a place of refuge for those who were working in “the pit.” Men and women would work, stagger to St. Paul’s and sleep in the pews or on the cots that were around the perimeter, each of which was outfitted with a stuffed animal. Food was served, souls were touched, bodies were cared for and human beings met human beings, anchoring the workers in the goodness of the human spirit as they were fresh from working in a place that spoke to the evil that men can do to one another.

It was difficult for me. When Deb asked me a question about where I was, what happened to me that day I found myself choking back tears. It comes that way sometimes – I can speak of 9/11 dispassionately and other times I can’t. I am there, I am back again in all the trauma of that day and the days that followed. I can feel the shudder of the building I was living in that was the result of the impact of the first plane hitting the first building. I can stand again at West Broadway and Spring Street and see the flames from the first hit tower. I am still somewhere in my life waiting for my friend of the time Cheryl to arrive, having walked up from near Ground Zero. I am still in the smoked filled, acrid smelling streets, filled with crowds of refugees and crying, dust covered men and women walking traumatically north.

I cannot get away from all of that day. It lives within my soul. Walking with Joe and Deb through that space brought it back, painfully. And yet it was good that I remembered. It reminded me that Memorial Day was about remembering and I was remembering this Memorial Day weekend, remembering 9/11, remembering that all those young Marines and sailors were serving us in the wars that resulted from that day, remembering that were other wars that have been fought and men and women who had sacrificed in those times.

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2 Responses to “Letter From New York May 31, 2010”

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