Sunday, September 4, 2011

Journal: September 17, 2001

Since last Tuesday, the New York skyline has been defined by what is not there. Seeing the Twin Towers from a distance set ablaze and watching them fall on TV, I still have not come to grips with their not being there when I walk out onto Peir A in Hoboken. While I have always thought the two towers as an inappropriate addition to the landscape and struggled often to imagine the skyline without them, now I struggle to replace them in my mind's eye with the vast emptiness left behind.
Only the rumble of the constant ferries breaks the incredible silence, and the whispering footsteps coming and going to the make-shift memorials that line the low wall and the metal rail -- the largest of these positioned closest to the point where people stood on Sept. 11 to observe the disaster: wreathes, candles, poems, missing posters, pressed against the metal bars, mingled not with blood as those across the river, but in the river of melting was, candles here smoldering in sympathy to the smoldering of the disaster zone.
Few funeral wakes have struck me as painful as this one as mourners make their way here before boarding the PATH or the ferry to devastated Manhattan. From here, it is hard to imagine the screams that accompanied the wrath of that moment. We saw only the billows of smoke and the momentary flash of fire when the two jets struck. We saw no bodies falling. We heard no cries for help. We could not even see those on the top floor waving their shirts in hope that someone -- anyone -- might rescue them. And now, a half dozen days later, we don't even know who exactly died, bodies plucked in pieces from the rubble without names or recognizable features. We know the dead only by those who did not come home, a handful from this town or that, as if we could hide the horrendous number by dismembering its total -- issuing out their numbers in pieces as small as the pieces of bodies recovered.
I am struck as hard by the vast space left by that loss of life as if their accumulated karma left a black hole as large in our lives as the towers were on the skyline. Those of us who survived, preserving their essence through the only possible immortal building-material we have, memory lasting longer than any brick or glass.
As I sit here, I watch people move gingerly to the make-shift monument, the way people do in ordinary wakes, each waiting for the previous person to vacate before moving closer, each seeking that last private moment to look over the body of the deceased, but a body made invisible except for smoke, wax and photographs -- pictures of missing people pasted to the ground always with the pictures of the two tall towers, which we once could see clearly from here.

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