Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Time Traveler's Life

Last night, I took a very long walk, from my home on Manhattan's Upper West Side to Ground Zero. I traveled miles I might have walked in the opposite direction nine years ago out of a rain of ashes had I lived here then and worked downtown.

But I didn't. I lived in LA, and after I saw the awful images of the towers being struck and the pandemonium in my hometown, I tracked down my family and friends to make sure all were accounted for, drove to my job at a TV network on nearly empty freeways (were Angelenos afraid the Hollywood sign was going to be hit?), and spent a few hours calling local station managers to reassure them.

That was all I could do that day, but it was better than crying in my living room. Of course I wanted to go home, but I wasn't sure what I could actually do there. When I finally did get back to New York a few weeks later, I felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach when I first saw the skyline without the towers. And to this day, when I am downtown, I feel a pang when I look south and see what's not there.

I have always appreciated the twin beams of light, devised to serve as a memorial, that reach into the sky each year as a symbol of hope. Having read about the progress that's been made at the Ground Zero site, with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, I thought I'd walk downtown to see the lights at their source, and the construction. Google Maps said the journey would be a little over six miles.

It was a beautiful afternoon as I set out, striding along the Hudson, past the 79th Street boat basin and the weeping willows and rusted train trestles in the low Sixties, the sun beginning to set over New Jersey. The lovely bike path/walkway along the water now known as Hudson River Park was not there nine years ago, and to me it symbolizes the indomitable spirit of New Yorkers and our collective ability to move forward in a way that perhaps many in suburban America, driving to Wal-Mart in SUVs while munching on Big Macs, cannot understand, in the same way they don't comprehend just how far away two blocks is for a Manhattanite.

Dusk began to fall, and a glowing crescent moon appeared low in the sky, its roundness visible, a sparkling Venus to its right. It made me think of the star-and-crescent symbol of Islam, and of reading, on Rosh Hashana just two days before, the story of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, the progenitors of the Hebrew and Muslim peoples. I have been so saddened by those maligning all Muslims for the heinous deeds of a few, and the idea of burning the Koran seems to me as evil as Nazi troops burning Torahs.

I walked on, past the beautiful cacophony of new and old buildings along the waterfront, until I first saw the beams of light, and then walked farther, past the chanting of Buddhist priests and the wonder-filled looks of tourists visiting my city and the guy whose ancestors probably came over on a boat from Italy 100 years ago wearing a t-shirt that said "Welcome to America - Now Speak English!" And then the twin lights were before me, reaching into the clouds like a bright Jacob's ladder, with sparkles in them that could have been angels but were almost certainly uplit birds.The construction site was filled with cranes, and the first buildings were taking shape.

And I remembered the fallen thousands of my fellow New Yorkers, the Jews and Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and Zoroastrians and atheists, and celebrated a humanity that can make beautiful light from toppled steel and tears, instead of ashes from holy books

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