His name was Matt, and he lived in Hoboken. He had come to Pier A to stare across at the blank space in the cityscape to ponder the meaning of his life.
This was Thursday morning. I was supposed to be in work, getting ready to put out a paper. He was supposed to make the Path ride to 33rd Street in Manhattan for his day at the office. Neither of us wanted to get on with the everyday activities, because what we did no longer fit in with the world.
Matt looked little different than the parade of other young professionals that made their way down Washington Street each morning, dressed in a button down shirt, tan slacks and black shoes. He carried a thick black organizer, which detailed the day to day activities of his life.
He was a slim and no doubt worked out in one of the health clubs uptown, although did not have the same muscular build many of the more energetic characters did.
He didn't approach me at first. He simply looked over the mass of melted wax and the hundreds of candles people had put at the end of the pier to commemorate those lost in the World Trade Center collapse. He seemed more thoughtful than depressed, pondering the aspects of the disaster and the mood of those that came and went. He said, when he finally came up to me, that he had known a few people from the disaster because of his earlier job in the Wall Street area. He also said he had lost touch with many of this crowd when he changed jobs and moved to midtown.
"I would have been right there if I had stayed with my old job," he said, his voice filled with the same awe I'd heard in people near an accident scene who had turned aside for some forgotten errand thus avoiding a tragedy someone else had suffered in their place.
He kept saying how people shouldn't dwell on it and how they had to get on with their lives, even as he lingered near the memorial and continued to stare at the space where the two towers had stood, a space now filled with the smoke of the remaining underground fires.
He kept saying that the way we would recover is to go on as if nothing had happened, and that we should grieve the lost, but not let their passing cripple us. He said nothing about the speech the nation expected to receive that night from the president or the drums of war that promised to kill many more than those who had died under the rubble.
Like many of the people who came to Pier A since the disaster, he seemed slightly off – that sense of shock that has overcome a culture, and stripped the upperly mobile of their purpose. He seemed to feel guilty about moving on the make his money when the body parts of his former fellow workers have yet to be found.
At another time, I would be the last person he or any of his friends would talk to, but in desperately seeking answers, he may have thought me in possession of wisdom I didn't have, some secret to life that his ambition had kept from him.
His disappointment with me was obvious, and though he bid me well as he went off to catch his train, he looked a bit sadder for our exchange, and I, continued to stare at the space where the Twin Towers had stood, and knew that no one had any answers -- making me marginally better off than he.