Saturday, September 11, 2010

Today

Today, the family and friends of a wonderful man gathered graveside on a beautiful early autumn day to say good bye. Somewhere in NYC, a baby was born and an old woman died. Today, I puttered around putting my apartment back together while watching a riveting match featuring Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Five sets and a king was dethroned. Today was a beautiful day in the neightborhood, and there is the rub.

This morning was that kind of early autumn morning that should make you glad to be alive. I don't like these kinds of mornings so much anymore. They remind me too much of September 11, 2001. The day that New York and the world came to a grinding screeching halt. It's hard to imagine it, some nine years later, but on that day we just stopped. We stopped traffic. We stopped planes.. For moments on end, we all stopped breathing as planes hit buildings and those buildings fell down.

It didn't feel like it would be that kind of day when I woke up that morning. The city had that just washed feel, the sun was shining, and the air was gloriously clear. In my usual "just enough time to be on time mode", I got on the subway on the upper West side early to go to work. You know the drill -- not one minute to spare in the itinerary. When the train stopped just shy of Penn station, you could hear the collective silent groan of everyone in the car. "Not today, I don't have time for this." When we finally pulled into the station, I reached for my cell phone to call the office to let them know that I would be late for my 9:00 o'oclock call. "All circuits are busy" was what I heard so off I scampered to work. I stopped for my cup of cart coffee, arriving at the entrance to the Empire State Building sometime after 9:00. Only to find the building being evacuated.

Security had no time to talk. No time to answer questions. And so I took myself, my cup of cart coffee, and my book across the street to the Starbucks to wait it out -- still oblivious to the events of the morning. I am blessed in that I can read a book and block out the world around me and that is what I did. Until I felt a presence across the table, a tourist, I think a Japanese tourist. She asked if this seat was taken and I said no. She sat. She pulled out a brush and brushed her hair. She began to fidget and then she asked, do you think they will open the observation deck today? I said I wasn't sure why it had been closed to which she responded, "two planes flew into the World Trade Center, do you think they will open the observation deck." I said, "no, I don't think that they'll do that," packed up my things and ventured out into the street -- figuring they also weren't likely to open the offices anytime soon so I might as well go home.

The street was pretty chaotic. I ran into a colleague who was in a hyper-manic state. His father worked in the Trade Center but he was pretty sure he'd be ok. He dashed off (his father was ok). Another colleague and I walked together towards Penn Station. Each intent on getting home. I was the more fortunate one -- spotting a cab heading up town on sixth. I can not remember if she made it on to a train before they stopped running. I do remember that the world no longer seemed so pure and pristine when I got back to the upper West side. I headed upstairs, collapsed in my chair, flipped on the tv and watched the North Tower fall. At some point that day, New Yorkers were asked to stay home. So, like most of the country, I continued to watch events unfold on television -- turning to Peter Jennings because he seemed the most calm in the face of this storm.

The days following 9/11 are a blur -- the inevitable return to the Empire State Building was marked by long, snaking lines with IDs required and a number of evacuations. We dutifully developed a safety plan for ourselves -- identifying a meeting spot, buying flashlights, facemasks, and bottled water, learning the stairs, "just in case." After all, we were working in what had become, once again, the tallest building in the city. We wanted to be ready for any eventuality. We took comfort in the rhythms of work. We no longer wanted office space with a view -- the 8th floor was just fine.


Today, September 11, 2010, was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. A picture perfect early autumn day. They are finally making progress at ground zero. Tennis is being played in Forest Hills. New York city is still a hurly burly world. Life, it goes on. Different yet oddly the same.

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