i have to do something, so i choose to write today, september the 15th, 2001 at 9:09 pm.
we are all sad and stricken with this significant sorrow. the question now is “what do we do?”
for the answer i turn to something i saw as i took a break and sat and ate an apple after countless hours on my hands and knees seeing and sorting through wrath.
there was a stranger with a roll of electrical tape making a sign on the side of a ruined building. he was using the tape to make letters. the first letter the stranger made was an “F”. the second letter began with a straight line from top to bottom. he connected a shorter piece of tape to the bottom of the line and made an “L”. the stranger then placed a piece as long as the left side on the right, changing the “L” into a “U”. i immediately thought he was writing “fuck bin laden”, a phrase that some people had written on their hard-hats. i took out my notebook and jotted down how sad it made me that when we needed compassion and strength we were wasting our precious energy on anger. i set my pen down and looked up. the man had added a smaller piece of tape to the top of the “U” and created the letter “O”. the word the stranger spelled was “FOOD”.
in that one act the stranger summed up what is occurring at a pile of rocks and dreams where three buildings once stood. in the place of those buildings there is hope and courage and love. in the place of those buildings there are men and women that are working till they collapse. there are men and women defining what humanity can be when it is tested, and in the process defying what humanity can be when it chooses to test.
i sat for awhile and watched the stranger begin to clear rubble and dust from the area beneath the sign. he was by himself, making the food station on his own accord. he saw something that needed to be done so he simply started. within 2 minutes the place was filled with people silently cleaning. no words were shared, only will. i stood, walked over and picked up a shovel.
when we were done i walked away to one of the few spots where they had hot coffee. it’s on the hudson with a view of new jersey and the statue of liberty. it suddenly came to me that i had stood on that exact spot with my father, his wife and my brother months before. on both nights jersey sparkled and liberty shone.
the wind picked up and the dust brought a fog. i heard screams and shouting and looked behind me. as had happened many times before in the hours i had been there, everyone was running from a building that was about to collapse. the workers jokingly called it a stampede. the building settled but it did not fall. after a few minutes the men returned to the work, the light from the site making their silhouettes sharp and their shadows long. they may have looked like cattle running out, but no man looks like anything but himself walking back in.
i stood and watched the boats bringing supplies for awhile and then i reached into my bag and pulled out a marker. i took off my hard-hat and wrote a single word on the back of it. that word was “rise”. i turned back towards the site, put on my gloves, grabbed a bucket and joined a thousand other men for a long night. the rain came hard and cold but we all stayed. rising with every ounce of wrath we carried away.
the stranger’s name was chris and he had driven from pittsburgh to help.