Wednesday, 19 September, 2001
I don’t have any cool stories to tell about 9/11 like many of my fellow New Yorkers do. I didn’t see it. I didn’t feel it. I haven’t cried all week.
I spent last night near the site with friends and strangers, basically at ground zero, helping to distribute food and supplies to the rescue workers. And I actually took snacks down to the pit itself once, too.
I don’t think my mind is quite able to grasp what I have seen over the past fourteen hours. It was kind of strange how little emotion I felt as I stood twenty feet from The Pit — the pile of rubble that was once the third- and fourth-tallest buildings in the world. And walking through ash in what was, just over a week ago, a gleaming corporate street. Maybe it’s because it has been a whole week, and we’ve all seen the images on television and in the newspapers, and heard it talked about so much it’s like this is all happening to someone else, or like it’s just a movie with a plot that, if it was a movie, would seem hard to credit. I kept thinking I was just at a huge construction project, with all the exposed scaffolding and people walking around in orange vests and hard hats.
(I got to wear a hard hat and dust mask. That was the fun part.)
But in this construction project you keep reminding yourself that there shouldn’t be ash and burned office papers covering the streets surrounding that scaffolding, that the buildings that are standing shouldn’t be twisted and bent like skeletal monsters illuminated by falsely bright, movie-set generator lights. And that buried in the rubble of this construction project are several thousand dead or dying that we can’t even get to yet.
So we disassociate, and walk around passing out cans of cola and bottle of water and apples wrapped in foil, and try to do everything we can to support each other and wipe the tears from the blank faces of rescue specialists who have seen too much of this for too long. Who can’t be comforted by a bag of homemade cookies from some Lower East Side elementary school. But it’s all we can do, and so we keep doing it.
I felt sometime last weekend that this world-reversing tragedy was settled down, that its effects had passed from my world and everything was (sort of) back to normal. Last night I learned that it will not be over for a very long time.
This afternoon, I cried.