Friday, September 11, 2009

The Human Spirit

¡Hola! Everybody...
Been busy...

* * *

-=[ Remembrance ]=-

I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

-- John F. Kennedy

Most of us experienced the events that transpired at the World Trade Center vicariously through television.

I didn’t... I was there.

I had lived in the vicinity of what is now called “ground zero” since 1969. When the towers collapsed, my building shook. I watched from the roof of my17-story building in horror as people jumped from the Towers .

I heard my neighbor scream hysterically as she stood next to me and watched people who chose to plunge rather than burn. I saw, with my own eyes, that horror, something my mind refused to believe at first. I thought -- I wanted so much to believe those little dots were debris, but they were humans.

I walked in silence with the throng of humanity that marched through the streets of lower Manhattan, a mass shrouded in white ashes. The day was a beautifully clear day, the sun shining, as thousands walked in silence, ashen heads bowed.

I saw a woman walking, obviously in shock, bleeding from a wound on her head. I saw another limping, whimpering to herself. I saw bits of human beings mixed in with all those billions of bits of papers and files...

I lived in the shadows of the towers all those years. I used to party every Friday there when I was a young man working in the Woolworth Building, almost across the street from the “World Trade.” When I was 14-15, I took a summer job as a messenger at a printing company where my uncle worked, and I would deliver blueprints to the architects at the World Trade site. I had just finished reading Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and had developed an interest in architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright, and it was pretty cool to see the architectural monstrosity rise (let’s not get too nostalgic, The Towers were pretty much bland-looking).

I even had sex in the shadows of the WTC -- a youthful impulse early one hot summer morning in the throes of a passionate summer love. I once looked up on my way to work, and saw a man climbing up the outside of the WTC. In the 70s, a famous tightrope walker walked across a cable stretched between the two towers. There was a lot personal history there in those towers -- at least for me, anyway. I also had many friends who worked there, at one time or another. I remember that no matter how drunk I got, all I had to do to make it home was point myself in the direction of the Towers.

I had just started working at my current job and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I worked from 12-8. I went to the store to buy coffee and I looked up to see the back end of a plane sticking out of one of the Towers. I really didn’t think much about it. Things always happened at the Towers.

As I was returning home from the bodega, I felt the second plane hit. I felt it. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I won’t retell that tale, we all know it... we saw it replayed on the TV countless times (was it really necessary?)

I took the elevator to my 17th floor apartment and watched... I watched from the roof, where some of my neighbors had congregated.

I saw thousands of people walking silently, heads bowed, covered in white ash. It was strange to see so many people in one place and feel that silence. I saw people helping one another, stores giving away free water, others helping the wounded. A priest and I helped some who were walking around in shock. I witnessed, that day, the nobility of my fellow New Yorkers. I saw the world unite with us in spirit. I saw the true potential of the human spirit that day, even in the midst of all that carnage and ugliness.

It was what I saw immediately after that scared me. And as it turns out, I had every right to be scared.

I saw the religious whackos in full force before the dust had, handing out pamphlets proclaiming the end of the world. I saw people buy right into that. It was a scary time, and people were confused, easily swayed.

I saw hatred.

The next day, there was a call for volunteers to escort Muslim women and children because they were being attacked. I saw a lot of anger and fear and I feared that there were forces that would use that tragedy to exploit, to manipulate. I witnessed a bellicose and washed up mayor resuscitate his political career while literally standing on the charred bodies of the dead. He has since made millions from the events of 9/11.

I saw an incompetent president take us to a meaningless war and the shredding of the Constitution -- all in the name of all those dead people, in the name of my fellow New Yorkers, all who stood bravely and came together when it was most needed. I saw our leaders take that nobility and turn it into a force for hatred and greed.

I smelled, everyday, that strange smell emanating from the charred pile that was once the Towers. It had a strange smell -- like rotted meet mixed with something else that was totally unidentifiable. I coughed what we began to call the "downtown cough." My lungs have never been the same since that day... Through some degree of separation, everyone one in New York was connected somehow to a death in those towers and I heard the many stories, the sadness...

We must never forget those who died that day, those eight years ago. We must never forget human spirit that arose that day -- that one sliver of light in that day -- where we all came together as one. But we must also never forget that some used that to lead us into darkness.

If we forget that, then all those people will have died for nothing...



  1. Before 9/11 I really thought America was heading in the wrong direction, but I couldn't really articulate why. Just a feeling. The feeling I had after 9/11 was one of hope that we'd use this to reflect and re-adjust and move forward stronger and more together than ever. Boy was I wrong. Instead we doubled down on the crazy. And here we are 8 years later with the mastermind still uncaptured, with our economy in the tatters that the mastermind surely wanted, with our freedoms curtailed, deviousness emboldened, and our hate and suspicions at an all-time high. 9/11 changed everything, all-right - just not in the way most people think.

  2. Li: That was my feeling also. I saw both sides -- the part of us that instinctively moves us to collaborate and help one another in times of need and trouble; and the shadow part: the part that exploits hate and fear for ignoble purposes. 9/11 could've been used to bring the WORLD together, but instead it was used to achieve negative results.


What say you?


[un]Common Sense