Sep 10, 2008

Seven Years Of Plenty

It’s hard to imagine that it was 7 years ago. It seems, at once, so much sooner and so much more distant.

I remember being at the gym, at the Reebok Club on the Upper West Side, when it happened. And the moment that the plane hit into the second tower and all 50 treadmills and stairsteppers and Lifecycles and NordicTracks and elliptical trainers slowed to a stop and we all just stared at each other in disbelief until the third plane slammed into the Pentagon and we realized that the city was now under attack.

I remember running back home to find my wife and son and then dashing off to the store to buy milk and water before they ran out. And then, not wanting to stay at home, all of us heading over to Riverside Park, to the pier where we’d spent so many calm summer evenings, and realizing you could see the giant plumes of smoke coming from where the buildings had once stood, simultaneously repelled and transfixed.

I remember the silence too, of a New York without cars. And the noise from the fighter jets circling overhead. In Tel Aviv sometimes, you would hear those booms from the balcony of the hotel room, but that was Israel, where such things were to be expected. This was New York, where they were not.

I remember the steady stream of ash-covered survivors marching slowly up Amsterdam Avenue that afternoon, like actors from a science fiction movie, only there was no one to yell "cut."

I remember the line of trucks over by the American Red Cross building, the ones with canvas tops that look like covered wagons, that you see in places like “war-torn Rwanda” and pressing $200 cash into the hands of one of the volunteers.

I remember that night when the winds shifted and the smoke made it up to the Upper West Side and we realized how very close we really were.

I remember thinking we’d protected my son, who was not yet three, from figuring out what had gone on. Until the next morning when we went outside and he asked me if “those two buildings that fell down yesterday" were still on fire and I tried to keep my voice steady as I told him that yes, the firemen had put them out.

I remember the signs. Everywhere, people had put up handmade missing posters for the loved ones we now knew were never coming home. I’d stop in the subway stations and on street corners and read them all, crying behind sunglasses, then sneezing to pretend it was just allergies.

I remember the first day I went back to work and how the cadets from the police academy were stationed on nearly every corner in midtown. And how these terrified 21-year-olds with guns seemed a perfect metaphor for the city in wartime.

I remember that my route home took me through Grand Central Station and Times Square. And how I clung to the words of the Israeli mother of one of my son’s classmates who’d admonished us that “yesterday, you didn’t know there was a threat and so you didn’t think twice to go on the subway. Tomorrow, maybe it will be a different threat. You don’t know. You can’t live your life worrying about every little thing.”

And I will cling to those words again tomorrow as I cross under the Hudson and descend into the subway and take a train that goes through Times Square and enter again into a city that in most ways seems to have fully recovered from a nightmare that for a time seemed truly terminal.

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