Posts Tagged ‘Ground Zero’

Letter From New York, September 17, 2010

September 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On the anniversary of 9/11 I found myself at a baby shower, thrown by two of the conductors of the trains I ride for two of the passengers. Sixty people were there, forty-five of them from the train community. We laughed, we played games, had a couple of glasses of wine, watched the mothers receive gifts and visited among ourselves. The somber background of the day was not forgotten. On the radio in the morning there was the backdrop of the reading of the names, the remembrance of the gloriously, sweet, beautiful day that was 9/11/2001, a day that could not have been more beautiful, a day that was in perfect juxtaposition to the horror of the day.

At the party, people talked of it, the anniversary. Many commented that there were an unusual number of social events planned for the day. Several at the baby shower had more than one invitation to a social event and there was speculation that many people were holding special events that day because they wanted to leap over the pain of that day, to begin to imprint upon their brains some happier memories – and yet all felt a little a guilty about doing something pleasurable on 9/11. It is a somber day, a holy day in some ways, a day that may remain with us for always as a secular Good Friday, a day in which we will remember the terror that changed our world, forever.

And, at the same time, people are struggling to have life go on in this new reality, which includes terror and tension, fear and fright. Because on September 11, babies are born and folks pass from this earth, love needs to be celebrated and we have to come to terms with the great pain of 9/11 and the reality that the world continues on. Perhaps that’s why this year, more than in years past, there were parties on 9/11, because people are beginning to integrate the reality, the horror of 9/11 into the calendar of their lives.

It was the following day that I felt the spirit, the ethos of 9/11 more than I did on the day itself. I had to return to the city from the cottage early so that I could help with video coverage of a march organized by Religious Freedom USA. Founded by two young men, one a rabbinical student and the other an evangelical Christian, it has devoted itself to fighting intolerance of religious groups in America and right now their focus is on Muslims because they are the group receiving the brunt of intolerance right now.

The day started with speeches at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, around the corner from the proposed Cordoba Center, buildings united, said the pastor of St. Peter’s, by the fact that both were damaged by debris from the same plane hitting the World Trade Center. Josh Stanton, the Jewish half of the founding team, recalled the story told him by his still living grandmother who, as a child, found herself huddled in her home with her parents as a mob surged through the streets of lower Manhattan, ranting as they went, torches in hand, that it was time to kill the Jews.

He was organizing because he did not want a surging mob in the streets calling for the killing of Muslims. At the end of the speeches, there was a mile long march through the streets of lower Manhattan, through the rain, past places in the process of rebuilding, rebuilding from that terrible day that has shifted history. Walking with them brought all of that day back to me and brought back all the weeks following and all the horror, standing on a friend’s rooftop, staring down into the still smoking pit, a miasma of broken buildings and lives, smoldering weeks later, still spewing death.

But out of that horror, out of that smoldering cauldron, the resultant mix should not be hate and bigotry. We should have learned something from our mistake of putting Japanese Americans in camps during WWII, that not all members of a group are the same. My mother told me of our family attempting to downplay our German background during World War I [and II?] because of fear that people would think we were one with the ones we were fighting. Let us look at our history and learn from the mistakes made and do our best not to repeat them.

Letter From New York August 25, 2010

August 26, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Sitting down to write this evening, I find myself in a predicament – the most important thing that happened this week, which I find myself wanting to write about puts me in the middle of one of the great controversies of the moment.

This past Friday I was asked by Odyssey, my bread and butter client, to attend a meeting regarding the hugely controversial Cordoba House, the Muslim center proposed for a site two blocks from Ground Zero. Disturbed by the clamor that has arisen and the vitriol tossed about, Robert Chase, the head of a not for profit group called Intersections, which is an interfaith organization which is a member of the Odyssey family, called a meeting of other interfaith organizations to discuss the issue. And Odyssey was one of the invitees.

It was a small group, thirty or so that gathered Friday morning at the Intersections office on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I was struck by the fact that half the attendees were from the Jewish community in New York and were among the most concerned about the tenor of the dialogue surrounding the Cordoba Center.

This is a controversy that has risen to national prominence over the last few weeks, inspiring some really hateful things being said about the individuals involved with the Cordoba Center. As I headed to the meeting I read the New York Post while on the subway, a conservative newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is a tabloid and is as close as we get in the 21st Century to the “Yellow Journalism” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is doing everything it can to swirl the Cordoba Center situation into a full-blown crisis of national proportions.

The Murdoch organization, owner also of Fox News, is doing all it can, it seems to me, to imitate William Randolph Hearst in its playing of the matter. [Don’t remember William Randolph Hearst? With his newspapers he probably single handedly stirred the country up to engage in the Spanish American War after the battleship Maine mysteriously sank in Havana’s harbor. Remember the Maine! was the battle cry and the U.S. got Cuba for awhile after that and the Philippines too – for about forty years until they became independent after WW II.]

This Cordoba “crisis” is a complicated thing. It’s been planned for years but only now has it become a cause celeb for Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch organization. Nine months ago they were pretty benign about it, treating it pretty much as a non-event until there was the smell of blood in the water.

One local politician is publicly calling Islam a “terrorist organization” which it isn’t. It’s a religion in which there are some pretty scary organizations that are terrorists. But not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Christians are good. Some Christians do some pretty despicable things. Christianity and particularly my tradition, Catholicism, have done some pretty horrific things along history’s way.

Last Thursday I had a conversation with a young woman, a Hindu journalist pursuing a story in Pakistan on the dichotomy there between the secular and radical Islam, of how that country is being torn apart and that, as she sees it, Islam is being hijacked by radical elements that have arisen over the last thirty years, since about the time of the fall of the Shah. And these folks are really, really, really scary. I acknowledge that. I find them terrifying.

But that is not every Muslim. They are not my Muslim friends, who have endured hard things since 9/11. There are Muslims to be feared. But not every Muslim. There are Christians to be feared. But not every Christian. Have we so quickly forgotten that Timothy McVeigh, who committed the largest act of domestic terrorism prior to 9/11, was not a Muslim but from the Christian tradition?

The tarring of an entire religion with a label so powerful should give us cause to think hard, very hard.

Letter From New York May 31, 2010

June 1, 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.

Letter From New York June 5, 2009

June 5, 2009

This week’s letter is not the usual letter; it’s abbreviated and has only one go through by me. Usually I sit down on the weekend and write a draft which gets honed over a couple of days and then gets out on Tuesday evenings.

Last weekend, my brother Joe came for a visit and we had a wonderful New York weekend: dinner on Friday with my friend Gary, Saturday a leisurely brunch at a little slice of Britain, Tea and Sympathy, a restaurant that could have been transported from any British village to the West Village of NYC, followed by a leisurely stroll past Ground Zero, which is now mostly a construction site and which is still a magnet for people who want to come and see where the future we’re now living was born. We spent part of the afternoon on the sundeck of my apartment building, having eschewed the country for the delights of the pagan city and then went to a long, leisurely dinner at Café Luxembourg before seeing an Off-Broadway play starring Tracy Thoms, daughter of my good friend Donald Thoms. She is one of the stars of CBS’s COLD CASE.

Sunday late morning he left and I became involved in some impromptu business meetings between shopping and catching TERMINATOR SALVATION. Between all that and keeping up with the email stream there really wasn’t time for a rough draft, Monday was chock a block with meetings and on Tuesday evening I had dinner scheduled with my friends Annette and David Fox. It seemed more important to have dinner with them than to put my fingers to the keyboard. In a sobering time, and it is a sobering time in which we are living, it is better to take time to connect with other living beings than to labor over the computer.

General Motors has gone bankrupt… It is almost unimaginable — and would have been when I was a child. “What is good for General Motors is good for the country,” was a phrase famously said by one of its CEOs. Well, if that’s true, bankruptcy would be good for the country and there are those who are concerned that we might just go the way Argentina did a decade ago. The Chinese Economic Minister is busy lobbying behind the scenes for a new reserve currency, afraid the American dollar will cease to be effective. He’s getting some good listening to by others who have the same fear. It’s a bit self-serving, of course, as China sees this as a time when the Yuan can find itself in the position of the dollar in the foreseeable future as China works to make the 21st Century the Chinese Century.

It was sobering that an Air France Airbus went down – anyone who flies with any regularity has been on an Airbus and they have had a sterling record. This particular plane disintegrated over the Atlantic, reasons unknown though today it is being speculated that the plane may have suffered a computer glitch that cascaded into tragedy. Computers! The blessing and the bane of our time. Everything is being computer automated which is lovely when it works and possibly catastrophic when it doesn’t. Yet we could not return to the pre-computer world – without these machines we couldn’t handle the velocity we have created with them.

It has felt in the last few weeks that I’ve been living under the tyranny of emails – the volume has become ridiculous; 300 a day is not uncommon. When friends ask me what I read in my spare time I jokingly respond: my emails. It’s not a joke and I haven’t learned yet how to get through it all and I must or soon it will seem I have no life beyond my Mac. The volume and velocity is becoming almost terrifying. So, on Tuesday evening, when normally I would be getting out my LETTER FROM NEW YORK, I took a deep breath and went to visit friends. Let’s all do that this week – visit with someone and get our faces off the computer screen.