I was standing on 5th Avenue with a crowd of New Yorkers from all walks of life,watching the biggest buildings in one of the biggest cities in the world burn like candles. No one knew what had happened for the first hour or so. Once we knew it wasn't an accident and the city began shutting down like a fort under seige, we began dialing family and friends and the schools where our kids were trapped by untrained administrators, getting dial tones and terrifyingly calm computer voices telling us the lines were down. No one panicked, you can see the footage. We did what we had to do. Boats poured across the Hudson from New Jersey to ferry people out of harm's way. People put their kids' schoolmates up for the night, companies closed, neighborhoods were blocked off, there were lines wrapped around the hospitals to donate blood.
The next day the stench was unbearable and unavoidable. I'm reminded of it today because down the block from my office, a restaurant is on fire as I type. The sickening smell of burning meat and building materials and ozone is all too familiar. We were out on the streets, collecting things to donate to the rescue responders. There were no trucks, no food or supplies could come into the city then. We were in lockdown. On my street, rescue workers walked from store to store looking for bottled water and food, covered to their hips in thick grey dust.
Within days, when the city was running again, but the fire was still burning and ash floating all over us, we went back to work. My route took me past the armory, the local operations for the rescue effort. On the walls of buildings surrounding it, were photos of the missing, smiling out at the camera. I felt myself in the very shoes of the family member or friend who had taken that photo in a moment of joy, and now had to xerox it onto a leaflet begging to know if this happy face still lived. I cried as I passed this part of town. We cried at my office. My kids wore paper dust masks to go outside. The dust and ash blew through our windows. The stench didn't abate for months.
It was March before the fires were completely out. And years before the hole was emptied. New Yorkers flinched at the sight of low flying planes. We stayed away from the site, or trepidatiously peered, in full knowledge that we were walking on sidewalks strewn with the ash of our neighbors' remains. We were angry at photos of tourists taking photos of the site with smiles on their faces. Fuck them. We tried to be tolerant when family members visited and wanted to see it. Like asking to see fresh scars from some near fatal collision.
The annual 9-11 ceremonies were tasteful, heartbreaking, and at some point, too boring to watch. When 9-11 was renamed Patriots' Day, when politicians started using it to scare people into voting for them, when radio talk show hosts and cheap tin pastors started using it to boost their audience ratings, when people who had never been there and had no right to wrap themselves in it began doing so, 9-11 ceased to be sacred. Now it's just another insincere glow in the dark plastic trinket holiday, co-opted by people who say we, who lived this horror, are not real Americans. The people who died on 9-11, and the people who ran in to save them, we're not patriots. The people who died together: Arab, Hindu, Christian, Jew, European, African, Latin, Asian, Indian--every strain of human bloodline, every religion or lack thereof-- and the people who ran in to save them, recover their bodies, and mourn them, all of us, are now the sworn enemies of the people who hold 9-11 up as their rallying cry. We're atheist godless, idol worshiping terorrist lefty liberal New York assholes who hate the constitution and the country and our troops and real Americans, and unborn babies and fuck you.
I'm done with that three ring circus.