I’m in New York.
I used to live here.
9/11/01 was my second day of grad school.
I watched flames and smoke from a street corner near class.
Many students left soon after.
I didn’t have an apartment yet.
But I stayed, realizing that I had prepared for this day so thoroughly that I sent one set of storage boxes to my parents in the Midwest, and the other to Suzy in California: In case I died, I didn’t want my parents to have to wrap their heads around the evidence of a life lived creatively.
Being here was a dream realized.
There was no better place for me to be in the world.
Where would I go?
Eventually, the grad-school-in-NYC part of my life ended.
I’ve been back lots of times.
But I’m nervous now.
Because it’s the first time since I lived here that I’ve allowed myself to feel the trauma of the events.
Don’t act surprised. I’m a late bloomer.
And I had an iron cage around a tiny heart.
Since nearly losing it–and by losing it I mean comparing myself to homeless folks on the street and finding that maybe the only thing that separated us was charity–I started a slow return.
This visit is part of that return.
Not Worth My Tit
The overarching theme in the 9/11 interviews I’ve led this week: New Yorkers see the crushing need for peace more than anyone else. War is reiterating, on foreign soil, the death, destruction, fear and anguish that knocked the wind out of our nation on that day.
The more life we extinguish, the less ground we gain. The more death we espouse, the less distance we travel in healing our grief and, in so doing, the schisms of the world.
Quotes of NYC graffiti:
“Our grief is not a cry for war.”
“We were born innosent and kind.”
“One Love. People get ready.”
Your Tat is not worth my Tit.
here is new york
The quotes above are from photos at the New York Historical Society photographic exhibit, “here is new york: remembering 9/11.”
The photos are simply exhibited, no frames, 11″ x 17″ hanging on string with binder clips, filling all the wall space and strung above-head across the rooms as well. The exhibit covers two large galleries of space with photographs taken by scores of photographers at or in relation to 9/11.
They show survivors, rubble from the WTC, layers of dust, writing in the dust on windows of abandoned cars, emergency workers, onlookers, blast views, planes headed into the towers, jumpers, distressed onlookers, stunned, dust-covered survivors holding their foreheads in one hand and a water bottle in the other, the international sign for grief and disbelief–the hand over the mouth, missing flyers, impromptu memorials of candles and flowers and cardboard, butcher paper, chalk on the sidewalk overflowing with sentiments, shopkeepers and volunteers feeding emergency crews, prayer stations, revenge signs reading “Wanted Dead or Alive” with a picture of Bin Laden, a humvee squeezed onto an antique, tiny downtown street, more dust, papers scattered about a church graveyard, countless tears, that clear clear 9/11 sky, nyc concrete corridors every last person facing the direction of the smoke, watching in disbelief, subway stop memorials, people staying together, strangers in each others’ arms, firemen holding hands on their way into the pile, kids’ drawings, sisters and fathers and migrant workers and traders missing, blood, twisted metal, mettle, post-apocalyptic organization, blue sky….
I will post more of the quotes later.
A Habit of Lists
Here are the quotes I copied from the 9/11 photos at the NY Historical Society exhibit. Days have passed between my being there and being here, and I thought for a few minutes that I might not post the quotes after all. Am I bombarding people with 9/11? But it strikes me over and over again that what I’m doing is healing. And others, from what I hear in response, are healing along with me by watching, listening to, or being a part of mine.
It’s raining outside here in Santa Barbara. Land of the Maxfield Parrish sunlight and clouds, views and mountains, sky. It rained in NYC last week on 9/11. Interesting to me that out of two galleries of walls filled with 11″ x 17″ photos, the one that struck me the most was a simple cityscape, point of view looking down an EMPTY avenue, even more distinguishing, the absolute clarity of sunlight the photo caught. That is the photo I got stuck in all those years ago, and that’s where I’ve been walking around since.
Going back to NYC last week was the first time I “faced the music” so to speak. Went to the observances. Let my grief surface. Let myself be someone who grieves over this trauma. Before I returned, I was so interested in how it is we move on from grief. How it transforms us, and how we in turn transform. But being at the World Trade Center site, as the names were being read, as the rain was falling, across the water as the lights were shining upward into a black sky in remembrance, made me realize there is no hurry. There is no scramble to be fixed. Grief takes its slow steady time, unwinding like the coils of a snake languishing in sunlight, loathe to leave the rock that has been warming it. Grief transforms. We are changed by it. But first grief is grief. Its own spirit and will and breath. Before it moves through, it inhabits. The exquisite journey is to cohabitate.
“Not in our name.”
“This is no time for cowboys.” (Sign around the neck of a life-sized John Wayne cut-out.)
“The news makes me cry.”
“Patriotism scares me.”
“END WAR” (Written in block letters inside a ONE WAY sign.)
“PWPD/FD Meet Here – FLFD” (Written in the ash and dust on a van window.)
Names from some of the photos, that were on missing persons flyers:
Barbara K. Olson
Samantha and Lisa Egan
Carlos Mario Munoz
Later, after the flyers that were captured in the photos were rained away, lists like this got compiled. A few phrases about each person, serving as a public memory.
(This links to a list that came up in a search today, Sept 1, 2011. The above domain is no longer active, but there are many tributes and online memorials that list and honor each victim of the 9/11 attacks, a Google search away.)
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The posts here are a record of my 2007 return to NYC, to interview people who had been there on 9/11/01, and attend commemorative events, memorials, and the annual reading of the names. I posted these day by day while in NYC and after, on an earlier version of my blog. They show up here in their original order appearance.
(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar -->)
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Thanks for reading Day 22 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.
Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.
Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.