Thursday, September 28, 2006

The 9/11 No One Speaks Of

Compliments of HomeyM (now of Jamiaca, VT), a reflection on NYC in the wake of 9/11 -- recalling a spirit that I didn't once here, read, see referred to in the month of September, 2006:

I lived within the original Ground Zero perimeter, in lower Manhattan, during 9/11. It was, to the say least, a very special, a one-of-a-kind experience.

For at least a week, maybe two weeks, every New Yorker I could see (and for the first few days, almost no one came out onto the streets, it was like pioneering to do so) was in a quiet, reflective space, like dreaming while awake. Pretty soon shrines (photos, candles, flowers, handwritten sayings) appeared on almost every corner and in many window sills. Storekeepers (most stores were closed; a single
NY Times was shared by a whole area of five square blocks and so on) were giving water and food to folks who were convoying down to the smoking site (a huge smoke cloud with bodies in stood between earth and sky for many weeks), to begin picking up the two largest buildings in the world. There were even pay phones that worked without paying.

It was not a time to be selfish.

After a few days, maybe two people, and the number grew every day, would gather at Union Square at 14th Street and 4th Avenue in the evening, to speak their feelings. All around Union Square, as well as Washington Square and most other parks, certainly in lower Manhattan, were spontaneously created these larger shrine-like displays, contributed to by many people. Sayings were pinned to the cyclone fences. Everyone was serious and thoughtful, and we would often look each other deeply in the eyes without saying anything. One would see certain people one had not seen in many years, they would just appear walking on the nearly empty sidewalk, when you ventured outside.

No one was about revenge. That was just not the point.

Anyway, as this went on into the second week, most people I spoke to (usually brief, simple, meaningful conversations) shared the thought and question, "Will we retain this feeling, or will it in a few months go back just to the same busyness and brusqueness, the way it had always been in NYC?" We pretty much knew it would be going back to that, but would something be retained, and/or how could some of this wonderful spirit be retained.

[From this I formulated the concept of "Keep It Alive," which was to be that every Friday night in certain parks, such as Union Square, a microphone would be hooked into a simple amp monitor, such as musicians use, and people would take their turns for a few minutes each, just freely expressing their hearts to the gathered group. It would be a weekly ritual of sharing of feelings and thoughts, not a debate (although some of that would be inevitable) but just letting someone speak. The underlying point would be to keep alive the spirit of love, reflection, listening, openness, the whole spiritual quality that had opened up in response to 9/11 event.

A year later (could it have been only a year?), I moved to Vermont, and I radio show based on free and open conversation, on radio free brattleboro, and decided to call it... "Keep It Alive."]

So, my point is that indeed eventually things did go back to "normal" so that there was no apparent trace of this special spirit that everyone was feeling for awhile. Human beings do have the potential to live truly spiritual lives, but the "system" is such that it will disappear very shortly after something especially tragic has elicited it.


Blogger RAB said...

I'm a New Yorker who lived then, and still do, probably close to where HomeyM was living then -- far enough from Ground Zero that I didn't have to evacuate my home, but close enough that I had to pass through several police barricades to get anywhere else -- and I pretty much agree with the above. I hope both Homey and your good self will forgive me if I differ on one small point of personal interpretation.

This is an accurate description of the mood on the streets at that time...but it would be a mistake to consider this attitude something that just appeared that day in response to a massive trauma, and that dissipated as life returned to normal. The New York City I've always known is a place where passersby will help someone in distress, or share a quip or a compliment with a total stranger. This is a place where people actively cultivate the attitude of "I'm a New Yorker, I've seen it all before, nothing surprises or impresses me" and are secretly proud of the unjustly bad reputation the city has suffered for so many years, because it makes us look really tough for "surviving" it.

When people elsewhere saw New Yorkers "coming together" on television, they were really seeing what life is like here every day, on a smaller scale. The way London responded to the Blitz is legendary -- but it's really just what decent people do in the face of a disaster. Did America or the world expect something different? Did they think New Yorkers were a colder, more unfeeling breed of person?

If HomeyM were in New York now, I'd suggest walking over to Union Square or Washington Square Park to see how people hang out together even without the spectre of death in the air. Just walk past the guy selling the "My dick would make a better president than your Bush" t-shirts and you'll spot them there every night...

Blogger SRBissette said...

Thanks for the post, rab! My own experience with NYC was less benevolent -- I had the shit kicked out of me (and wasn't robbed) for chuckles back in '78, and though I've spent plenty of time in the city since, never warmed to it, though I've got some great friends there and love aspects of the city. I tend to visit only when necessary, get my business done, and get the fuck out; though I long ago healed from that trashing physically, it was a nasty lesson and one I'll never forget.

Anyhoot, both HomeyM and you are more urban dwellers, and it's great to read various accounts of the reality of the time and place. Thanks for sharing that, and I'll direct HomeyM to your comment, too.


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