Thursday, September 11, 2008

"No Place to Stand": Manhattan on the Move

It was another day in my shiny office, 7 World Trade. Another overcast morning, another sticky subway ride, another jet fuel cup of black tea, another wade upstream through the crowd pumping from the PATH train entrance. For all those who came back to World Trade this morning, it was also "another day" - one that, unlike mine, looked completely and irreparably different. For me, an office building. For them a memorial. For me, a groggy thursday morning. For them a mark on the calendar when everything they knew changed.

When I finally made it through the thickened security and up to my office, I went straight to the window and watched as the sun rose mustard yellow over downtown, sweeping the thick crust of people around theGround Zero fence. I had a perfect bird's eye view of the private ceremony starting below amidst the haggard steel spine and mean-looking cranes of the ground zero construction. Lofted in glass above the scene, it felt almost like I was a nosy neighbor peeping in through the window's at a stranger's funeral. What did I know of this place's memories?

There were huge crowds gathered to hear the city leaders' speeches, family members returning to the site to remember and read their relatives names and relive the pain of that day, all among the buzz of another Manhattan morning, the roar of a anti-government protest outside my building and all of us just creaking in to another day of work. It seems like an uncomfortable, totally unfair and yet appropriate juxtaposition. Pockets of sacred moments never allowed to lie still among the constant movement and muscle of life that continually moves forward, even when we want to stop and grieve for what is lost.

When I sat down to my desk during the quiet of the early morning (anyone who has worked for a digital group knows the office stays uncannily quiet until around 10 or 10:30...) I looked up all the pictures of September 11th on the internet just to try and imagine what this place must have looked like back then. I never saw the world trade centers in person. I only know the look of this place without them and I try to imagine what it must be like now for those who remember. And it's a funny feeling because, although sometimes, late at night especially, you can still feel what happened here, for the most part this place for me has an entirely different meaning and feeling from those returning here this morning. And I got to thinking - its funny how places, no matter what happened there or what they mean to us, unforgivably and inevitably change. That the heart is the best place to keep things…the spirit the best place to let them go. Can New York, can my family, can I…do both?

It seems like a good day to both remember whats gone from these places of ours and also to celebrate re-growth and the perserverence of the human spirit. Most things never remain the same among us - change is the only thing you can count on. But I couldn't be more glad to be changing alongside people that I consider this courageous. People I know in my life, just like those who came here this morning on the anniversary of this day, who 'keep on keeping on'. Showing us, together, just what takes to hold up an entire city ...or an entire family... from the ground up.
Yesterday when I left my building late, Ground Zero was dark in front of the two beams of blue light shooting up from downtown to commemorate 9/11. Looking up at them from way down here where they began, those light beams seemed to be symbols not of the twin towers themselves, steel and glass and magnificent height, but instead of the people who hold up cities, nations, families, marriages, hospital wards...and anything else that needs holding up or prodding on. In that dark instant when I first saw them they made me think of my two parents. Two perfectly parallel beams of light in the lives around them, each one on their own path, never crossing or blending but always next to one another on their way up to where they burst into blue flame of light on contact with an overcast sky. I couldn't see where these spotlights began – and if I could, the site would no doubt look just like regular spotlights, not divine orbs or shooting stars – regular old cheap casino spotlights shooting up inspiration among the construction rubble of human struggle, triumph, cigarette butts, coffee cups and all the rest. But out of this they still create these brilliant lights that are visible to everyone in the city. Near and far, New Yorkers see those lights and they remember that this is their city – our city. Everything from the filthy sidewalks to the gorgeously lit peak of the empire state. Its theirs and they help it to keep on changing, keep on moving, keep on keeping on. The currents of our lives carrying us through these places we wish so hard would hold the water weight of our memories. If they could hold our memories for us, then we could swim back to the way it was, to remember past happinesses, because things were so different then. But rivers leave no marks, no trails, no footsteps in the sand or blood stains on their ripples. You can tread water against the current and look back for them forever or you can keep your feet out in front of you to brace the rapids, the way they tell you to do in river rafting if you ever fall out of a raft in white water. And so I watch the PATH train rumbling rudely and thoughtlessly behind those holding silent vigil amidst the mounds of dirt and construction. In some mean, toothy way, it is just New York's way of giving them what they came back for... "Another" morning that refuses to sit still.