I wouldn't write this now. It's kinda terrible. But here it is:
A few weeks before September 11, I was in New York City. Specifically, I was at the World Trade Center subway stop—my intention had been to be uptown at the Guggenheim Museum but being a tourist and a male, I was too proud to ask for directions. I had gotten on the wrong train.
I’d like to say that I remember the Center, that I had some preternatural instinct which not only led me to lower Manhattan instead of uptown, but that I also decided to take in the mammoth towers, committing each interior to memory. But I didn’t. At the time I was too pissed at being 10 miles away from where I wanted to be.
I’ve been to the city twice and each time I’ve been struck by how unsightly the exterior of the tallest buildings on the island were—two identical aluminum tubes, all right angles and unadorned practicality. Unlike some skyscrapers in New York, the Towers had never been romanticized in films or artwork—and for good reason. They were bleak compared to the lattice and spikes of the Empire State Building or the art deco beauty of the Chrysler Building. The Towers dwarfed the rest of the New York cityscape, looming above the financial district like the hollow legs of Ozymandias, but if they were aesthetically limited, they nonetheless commanded attention and respect when seen from the window of a bus approaching the Holland Tunnel, from the deck of a ferry, from the sidewalks of the city. And, indeed, from a plane sweeping into La Guardia.
I walked through the financial district the day I took the wrong train. There were swarms of people—professionals, tourists, shoppers, children, street vendors. Each inch of the sidewalks surrounding the World Trade Center was glutted with the crisp, swaying choreography of daily life in the city, moving in time to the mechanical metronome of busses and taxis in the street. I am having a difficult time grasping the reality that that choreography has been disrupted, that perhaps people I saw that day are now gone, and that the two unsightly Towers are not only wounded but obliterated.
Three thousand lives.
As the nation sifts through the debris of September 11, 2001, I can’t help but feel lost. The dead will be mourned, will be remembered. In the coming days and weeks, the world will be forced to come to grips with this tragedy—and people will be forced to stand accountable.
The landscape of New York City is changed forever, but in a deeper sense the landscape of the nation, too, is forever altered. We can hope that justice will win out over fanaticism and that reason will triumph over reactionary retaliation. But before we do anything else, we should stop, take a look around, and appreciate our surroundings—even if we’re miles away from where we wish to be.
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