September 13: A Day in the Life of the City

On the evening of September 13, I sent the following e-mail, titled "September 13: A Day in the Life of the City" to many of the people in my address book. I reproduce it here verbatim.

Dear Friends,

As many people have asked about my well-being, and since my phone and e-mail service has been intermittent, I thought Iíd send this note around to say a little bit about whatís been happening. Tuesday, when I went into work and got off the subway, I was witness to the terrible fire at the World Trade Center, about 35 blocks away (both towers were then burning). I went up to my office; after a couple of hours they evacuated the building (as the Flatiron Building is a landmark building). I got together with a group of co-workers who were headed in the general direction of Brooklyn/Queens/Long Island, and walked up through Manhattan and across the Queensboro Bridge, where I was very fortunately able to get a bus that took me almost straight home.

September 13, 2001--Today, for the first time since the disaster, I went into the northern part of downtown Manhattan, 14th Street and Greenwich Village. I was overwhelmed by what I saw: impromptu shrines in every park, fronts of firehouses heaped with flowers, telephone poles stapled with missing-person fliers, the scent of smoke in the air, the southward view hazy with the white cloud, the absence of that familiar landmark that loomed so large even 30 blocks away.

The whole south section of Union Square is for now a memorial with huge sheets of paper for people to write their thoughts and reminiscences, a central area filled with candles and other sacred objects, and a piece of the WTC itself, a large cylindrical rod on end as if it were a tower still standing. At the corner of the park thereís a relief station where a stream of people are donating food, water, medical supplies, and flashlights to be trucked down to the emergency workers. Down the street, there are other relief efforts going on, the main one spearheaded by the Salvation Army.

Amid the grief, the terrific outpouring of support among New Yorkers (as well as people from across America and around the world) has brought out, by and large, the best of human nature in our worst of times. (I understand this isnít universal; Iím quite disturbed about reports Iíve heart about vigilantism against Muslim-Americans. If the evidence thatís come out is indeed correct and the people whoíve committed these heinous acts are ďIslamicĒ terrorists, they seem to have vilely twisted the precepts of the Koran, presumably believing that Americans are by definition evil and there are no innocent people here. That sort of monolithic thinking, the demonizing of a group, whether itís done by terrorists, Americans, or anyone else, is at the root of much of the evil we face in the world, and we canít afford to indulge it if we ever want to find peace.)

Iíve never been a particular fan of our Mayor, but heís been on the front lines, doing a wonderful job in coordinating rescue efforts, in frequent touch with the press and thus the people. New Yorkís darkest hour has been Rudy Guilianiís finest.

Increasingly, the foremost thought on my mind (and Iím sure on numerous other peopleís) is ďWhat can I do to help?Ē The courtesy and respect among the New Yorkers whom Iíve encountered in the past few days has been incredible. Beyond the immediate tragedy of the Trade Center, the city is reeling in many ways. A number of bomb scares in large public places, subway lines shut down, telephone and Internet outagesóitís going to be a long time until it even begins to return to some semblance of normalcy, let alone begin to heal. But the life of the city continues, its sorrow (and that of the country and much of the world) eased by the overwhelming show of support and sympathy from its citizens, from across America, and around the world.



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