Yesterday I went into Manhattan with Peter Borst to see the hole in the New York skyline and in America's heart. I wanted to get some sense of the size of the site, and Peter needed to see that there was a perimeter, that the devastation ended someplace and that there was life and hope beyond the scar.
The first thing we noticed was the smell that came and went, grew faint and stronger, carried on the late September breeze. We consulted Peter's old tourist map, the one proclaiming the exact spot where "the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stand." But they weren't standing and we didn't need a map, because we followed the crowds that were guided through the streets toward the center by the siren sounds of fire trucks. We joined together at the barricades manned by young, somber-faced National Guardsmen in camouflage and flack-jacketed police still showing the grief of their losses. The second was the strange silence that hung over the people who pressed together in their efforts to verify first-hand what we all had watched on TV, or maybe it was just to get closer to another living human being, an affirmation that we were still alive. Some shook their head in disbelief, most cried, others took pictures to carry proof back home. All were subdued, all respectful.
Above us workers, in a valiant effort to restore some degree of normalcy, hung from scaffolds and washed down the gray dust on the wounded buildings guarding the crater. The occasional spray from the hoses wet the street and caused some in the crowd to look up and see what now was raining down on us.
When Peter and I were satisfied that life had really changed forever, we walked silently back through the streets toward the subway. Across from Trinity Church, on the sidewalk outside 120 Broadway, the same building where I had spent my last college summer piloting elevators to the 56th floor many years before, we saw the sign both of us were so desperately out to find. In the middle of all the debris, among so much misery and pain, a uniformed attendant with a little broom and shovel, the kind they used in the movie theaters lifetimes ago, swept up bits of dust and gum wrappers while he nodded and smiled optimistically at the passersby.
And then we knew that we would survive, indeed, that we have survived.
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