Dear New York,
I’m sorry I couldn’t be there today. I feel guilty that I couldn’t be present to observe. I had to look up the weather there to find out it was, again, a clear, beautiful day in September. I almost wish it weren’t, because I know that it just acts as a reminder for so many in the city of the perfect indian summer day we were having three years ago.
Things are very different here, a continent away. They’re clearly sympathetic and thoughtful about this date, but… it feels like an observance. Not that it’s not sincere, but people are sincere on Memorial Day or in remembering Pearl Harbor, too. They just don’t feel them at a visceral level.
Every September 11th since three years ago, someone I know has made a dark joke or not-quite-covered their nervousness with an offhand remark wondering whether there will be an anniversary attack. I have faith that there won’t be, but I get a sick pit in my stomach thinking that so many people I love and care about are having to go through that and I can’t be there for them. It’s that obligation again; When someone you love is afraid, you’re not supposed to leave them.
And today doesn’t have any of the bittersweet beauty, either. Besides perfect weather, my memory of this day three years ago includes all of the most touching and humane kindnesses between strangers that I’ve ever seen. It feels like another world being away, where nobody’s ever seen strangers hug in the streets, where stores have never thrown their doors open to offer free clothes to businessmen wearing tattered and dust-covered suits, where restaurants have never had a “sit down and have some water” sign in the window.
I’m sure people here would be good and kind in extreme circumstances. I’ve seen the people of New York do it, and it binds me to them and makes the city a permanent part of my identity.
I don’t have an elaborate observance. Last year, I realized my “tradition”, if any, is to let this be the one day I really let myself feel it again. Feel the dread that entire day of waiting to hear if there was any more horrible news. Of watching those hellish videos of the attacks replay on television, since I don’t allow myself to rewatch them the rest of the year.
I recently saw a personal website that features a picture of the Twin Towers burning at the top of the page, ostensibly as a reminder to “never forget” what had happened. I found myself growing extremely angry and realized that the reason for my anger was the presumption that I could forget, and that someone could be so desensitized to the image that they could see it every day on the top of their page, letting themselves become blind to it like it was a banner ad. But though I still can’t look at those images, on the anniversary I force myself to.
The prompt for me to look back in past years was always when it gets dark and I could first see the Towers of Light. Something about remembering that nightfall three years ago, where we all eventually had to make a leap of faith and assume that we’d all be there in the morning, that it was safe to go to sleep… it was the first step to moving forward. Those beams of light remind me of that, and of course they’re beautiful.
You’re not supposed to say that, because they’re an observance of a horrible memory, but they are, and these beams of light that make something beautiful of the tragedy feel to me like a tacit granting permission to look back. That it’s okay to let return that dread, that pit in my stomach, everything else that was choked back that day still seems right under the surface for me. Because it will pass.
I don’t know if it’s distance, or just the passing of time, but I notice how muted the sorrow is. There’s a passivity, a lack of passion to the observances. I knew it would come, in the same way that a friend told me quite presciently that day back in 2001 that "this is all going to be political debates someday" and, well, someday’s already here.
But for me, it’s a day to remember how much we’ve lost, both in human lives that day, and in my own innocence. So New York, I feel guilty that I can’t be there, but please know that you’re on my mind and in my heart. I love you, and I miss you, and take care of yourself today.
Dear New York,