Brevis ipsa vita est sed malis fit longior
~ Publilius Syrus
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
As I compose this letter the tragedy unfolding has gotten the better of me, dragging out the dregs of my compassion. Everything has come to a standstill in this Fortune 500 company of 7,000 employees to witness the terrorism which continues to fall upon us. At first, I heard the news on the radio, but it was not until I saw the telecast that fear and disgust and misery riled up through me. Tears wallow waiting to fall with thoughts of the thousands departed, murdered (it is wrong to pacify this horrible atrocious incident.) As I relate this to family on the West Coast, every time I try to say that probably everyone in this city knew one of the thousands (or at least friend who knew someone) killed in those towers, I got choked up and I have to pad my cheeks dry. I am almost incredulous when I hear people say something about the structural damage without any sign of sympathy for the lives lost, perhaps they are in shock.
….two hours later
Well, as I am merely human the (TV) screen of absolute horror keeps pulling me away. My colleagues and I simply sit staring at each other, for the exception of the loquacious one who is consoling her despair by airing nothingness, words without meaning which usually might grate me are now proving to be somewhat soothing in their incoherence.
All my manliness is proving no defense to my utter desire to sob. I had to go into the bathroom to wash away the heat of grief with cold water.
Immobility overwhelms me. People are unifying for few minutes to musings upon the meaning of all this then quickly dispersing to return to solitude and calls of consolation to family and friends.
Just speaking with my family swells the emotion which I often repress. Alongside the sincere tattering of woes I have for all the victims, I feel an immense appreciation for being alive.
In the past I have declared mediocrity as my greatest fear, but now I truly have something to be scared of, if not for my mortal being it is for a loved one or ones that may have been lost. My esoteric threats to the little meaning of my life are petty in comparison to the reality that mortality itself is but meaning enough to ponder.
It pains me to think I am just sitting on my ass doing nothing. So, I am leaving now to go give blood at the nearest hospital. I went down to the executive suite of my department to recruit others to give with me and they simply looked down at the floor. I was ashamed to think that I was somewhat proud of having worked with them.
I returned from the nearest hospital after I was able to recruit 8 others. There was a four hour wait to donate, so we returned to the office. I proceeded to go the Company Chairman's office and petition for a blood drive here on the premises. Apparently the note I left with the security guard got through, because I went to see the head of our department, the CIO of the Company and she said that the they called down about the note and that Met Life was organizing a blood drive three buildings down from us.
I was able to get the group together again and we quickly went over there and got our tickets for a two hour wait. Upon our return at 4 there was only three of us left. It took four hours before I left the facility at 8:15 PM.
While I was on the table waiting to be hooked up, I suddenly felt a great urge to be stuck with the needle, not in a sadistically pleasurable manner, but rather as penance of sorts. They had the radio on the whole time and the tragic reports stirred me, so I was feeling quite guilty and thought the little pain might do me well. I consider myself all too fortunate.
eerie. the only way to describe the long journey home. walking to the subway the silence was so strange for a city that doesn’t sleep, now for an entirely different reason. the quiet was only broken by the whirs of empty speeding yellow school buses and the echoing sirens of what seemed caravans of police and emergency vehicles passing by.
on the train it got even stranger, as strangers started arguing for no reason. transients struck up frazzled banter with bohemian coeds in what seemed like merely a need to talk to somebody. tragedy has a weird way of bringing people closer together, they begin to shed their hard shells simply to renegotiate their potential as humans. In a city like New York there are so many turtles and tortoises walking about hiding their heads that i wouldn’t be surprised if people began making awkward attempts to be humane.
In the ensuing months New Yorkers will eventually become more frightened that they are letting life pass by and not appreciating the little things - like other people - than fearing acts of terrorism. surely, for the next couple of weeks people will shyly look skyward at every sound of a jet, and they will be scared and sickened to discover who amongst their friends and family is now dearly departed, but there will also be that lurking tension telling them that they need to reassess what is most important in this state of being and nothingness.
Quem di diligunt adolescens moritur.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
I had to put on the TV, which we usually do not watch at all, after Mom called from California at 8 AM (5 AM her time) to tell me she had been watching coverage of the aftermath and could not help but call out of concern. Prompted by a mixture of morbid curiosity and a sentimental need to bring closure on this mess I switched it on to one of the two channels able to broadcast from New Jersey. The towers used to host the antennae of the local stations and we do not subscribe to cable. After half an hour of depression I forcibly shut it off.
The turning point was an interview with a young woman who had been searching for her fiancée all night. I was moved to both grieve and feel shameful embarrassment as the reporter dragged out the drama of the moment by ending her inquiry by rhetorically stating "So, you're wedding date was set for December 26, right?" The grief stricken bride likely not-to-be answered with an apparent teetering of a breakdown before the camera quickly moved away form her. My disgust increased ten-fold when one of the anchors suggested to the reporter, "Why don't you just give her a hug." The yellow journalists (perhaps simply green) certainly give me a greater appreciation of the grey-scale veteran correspondent s still at the helm of the nightly news who know how to provide coverage with some solemnity, or at least the semblance thereof.
However, my discipline seriously waned this morning as when i went out to the backyard to spend the day in search of some repose, much as I had done on Sunday. I was compelled to turn on the radio. The most simple minded excuse was that it was I needed know somehow what was and is, and what is to be.
Playing the part well, with vast praises from me, Mayor Giuliani demonstrated great leadership. His press conferences were nothing less than model demonstrations of how to hold up while everyone and everything else is falling apart about you.
If you can keep your head when all about you
~ Rudyard Kipling
If anything the city's firemen and police, lost and living, deserve a monument erected to them with these Kipling's words about courage.
As common his private life may be, i don't see it as a detriment to Rudy's ability to govern. If he were ever to make a run for the white house i would certainly cast my vote his way.
Along with the requisite courage of his station, he also showed appropriate and sincere signs of distress, anguish and dolor. Perhaps, his performance was made all the more poignant and powerful by "our President's" paltry inaugural address yesterday on the issue. The play on the tale of "good vs. evil" was a bit trying to listen to. Admittedly, though I feel he restored a bit of the reputation of his office this morning by recognizing that the horrific act was "an act of war."
It is unfortunate that seemingly the only righteous reaction is an eye for an eye, but being in the throes of this godforsaken wrath I know of but no other rightful answer. I suppose after some reflection I have gained some empathy for Israel as a victim of terrorism, although the whole exclusive geo-political ploy is another issue entirely.
this was the day when
I do not know why I continue to torture myself by reading accounts, listening to analysts trying to understand the unthinkable, the misery when misery can only be misunderstood. Of all the emotions I could have—fear, awe, bewilderment, anger, disbelief—deep, deep mourning runs through me most, grating inside of me like the screeching halt of an approaching subway train. I cannot recall a time over 33 years that I have sustained sadness for so long.
With the borders closed, airspace grounded, major monuments evacuated, and indefinite postponement to professional recreation it is almost as if someone simply hit the light switch on our nation. As bright and clear and even soothing as these last three days have been meteorologically, a great darkness looms over a country. Irony abounds.
*** Sitting in the eerie dead silence of my Brooklyn backyard it often felt like I was the only person who stayed home. Surely there were a multitude of others thinking likewise. The pleasant weather was almost unsettling, chaos jostling logic and science to the degree that I was moved to be believe that one the greatest sources of life itself, should cower behind nebulae in due respect to my denial.
I later found out when I went for a run, that many people had gone to the local park, which was filled with more pedestrians than a typical summer Sunday afternoon. Along my way there, one of the locals had placed three wood crates of homegrown concord grapes on the side walk with a sign that read "Please take some, perhaps they will sweeten the sorrow."
There were points during the day that the periodic whir of propellers holding up shells of white and blue prompted me to question the decision to be outside at all, as if hiding in a fragile abode of stucco, brick and wood would make a difference, perhaps only prolonging a gruesome fate. This was reinforced with the latest FBI reports of "credible further threats" and perhaps irresponsible talk radio discussions of nuclear potential.
There were also times that I was confused as to how I might proceed to go on as if all was business as usual, what was the point of going to work tomorrow if surely most of the day would be marred by the stupor of sudden and inexplicable loss. I suppose we simply have to start again somewhere.
I had mistakenly thought at the advent of the day, with a stack of periodicals and books beside me, that I would actually read something unrelated otherwise to yesterday, but any intentions to divert my attention were thwarted, as I should have expected.
The hardest part of the day was hiding my misery from Enzo. I had to hide my face when I began crying after hearing about how others have courageously handled the death of a loved one, and pretended that I was simply playing peek-a-boo with him.
My sole solace was watching him, a life but two years of age, playing completely incognizant of what we are going through.
Thursday, September 13, 2001
I, that wretched capital I, consider myself one of the strongest people I know, emotionally and psychologically, yet here I am seemingly helpless after the events of one day in my medium-sized life of thirty-something years being swayed in the opposite direction with the ease of the momentum of a revolving door. Modicums of human experience are proving itchy triggers to canons of emotion relentless in their siege upon me.
I left home early at 6 AM this morning to avoid the "expected prolonged commute" being announced everywhere, and thinking I had safely left the house complete, I realized a few steps away that I'd left what might become critical to the rest of the day —a handkerchief. Rushing back in I almost grabbed a spare as well, but decided I would make an extra effort to demonstrate better valor.
On the relatively packed ride into town, I realized that if per chance you were to look directly into any strangers' eyes there would be something connecting us all. Over elevated portions allowing unobstructed views of Manhattan passengers were moving towards windows to get a better look, a visual confirmation that life really had changed.
For once I have betrayed my arrogant self and can agree with the masses that nothing is funny. or at least will not be for a while to come. I hope, I pray that the usual stream of jokes-to-cope which fly over the internet do not come my way, I might take seriously ill if they do.
The tidal wave of accounts is merely at low tide, and I know I will not be able to run nor hide once the natural turn of events is fast in motion. The repercussions will be immense. Most of our focus naturally has been on what has happened, sprinkled with comments on what is bound to occur. Yet, the ramification of it all will prove much bigger then what can be sealed by a day.
I spoke to my sister, Sabina, based in LA last night who gave me some insight as to how things were on the other coast. She had happened to be in the SF Bay area for the last week so was able to give me a first hand account as to how the City and the surrounding area had basically shut down. She also related what would be the first casualty of relative relation. The boss of her close friend was on the first flight to hit the towers. As I have naturally been so focused on ourselves here in NYC, it has rarely occurred to me to assess the effects upon everyone outside the metropolis. Most of such speculation consisted primarily of presumptions of fear and sympathy. But with 400 people on those four flights, all heading westward, you cannot but assume that it will be of great impact there.
Knowing of the tragedy of other jets crashed, I can't help but think were sitting on an psycho-traumatic time bomb. All of us will pour over the list of the victims, only a few of us may look away unscathed.
Workers from over thirty countries worked in the twin towers. Over 140 flights were diverted to Canada, meaning if 100 of them had on average 100 passengers, there have been at least 10,000 people stranded in Canada since Tuesday.
My first conversation at work was about the connections of loss already known and how people were calling from their cell phones to say goodbye from underneath the ruble. To just think that not too long ago that during the tragic climb to the peak Mt. Everest, that lost a dozen or so people, that the call one of the victims placed on a mobile phone to his expecting wife while lying in a tent literary in the last stages of freezing to death to bid farewell and say how much he loved her — moved all listeners like never before. The impact of similarly dozens of recounts will prove unfathomable.
There were several reports of people in the streets witnessing people jumping out of windows from 80 floors above, several people saw a couple falling while holding hands. To think that they must have thought I rather die jumping then being burnt alive is painful. It was reported, but a city fireman volunteer I know said it should really be considered a rumor, that one of the women who jumped actually struck a fireman and killed him.
The two feet of soot was reported to be so thick that emergency vehicles were inadvertently running over bodies.
The body count varies extremely. Officials refuse to give numbers. The Daily News headlines read "10,000 feared dead." It has been estimated and restated many times that approximately 40,000 employees worked in the twin towers with usually about 10,000 others walking through at any given time of the business day. Good news, if it may be considered that, morgan stanley, the two towers largest tenant, reports that 3,000 of its 3,500 employees are accounted for and alive.
Someone I quickly became friends with while waiting to give blood told me how a friend he spoke with told him that there were dozens of children who were supposed to be picked up by parents working in WTC at nearby schools and daycare centers, but the parents were not coming.
My walk to work from the station was a solemn one. Seeing the flags flown at half-mast across from our building had more meaning to me than ever before in my life, it was sad not only for obvious reasons, but also because it was necessary for this catastrophe to happen in order for me to truly feel the compassion the tradition is supposed to elicit.
Ille dolet vere, qui sine teste dolet.he mourns honestly who mourns without witnesses.
~Martialis, Epigrammaon liber
These words continue to rear their ugly heads in the media and perhaps all of our minds: diabolical, evil, tragic, devastating, terror, entomb, mourning, agony, horrendous, eerie, cruelty, vulnerability, scourge.
Dozens of candlelight vigils have sprouted up spontaneously across the country.