Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th, 2001 || Vignettes


It is an existential truism that we are all looking for meaning in things: life, death, lost loves, the existence of God, and even two planes crashing into a building.

I’m not sure what I can derive from that last one.

When it’s all said and done, like World War Two and the JFK assassination, millions of words will have been written and billions of thoughts expounded questioning why this happened, and what it all means.

9 years on, those questions still linger.

The fact is, the terrorists knew that those Towers represented wealth and prosperity, that they were a symbol of New York and all it stood for: reaching for the sky, being the biggest, the tallest, the best. And if they could hurt you in any way, they’d do it by destroying what you love most, the thing that is most enduring and endearing, the legacy, If only to strike fear into you. Because nothing strikes fear into a person like seeing something so permanent and irreplaceable, something they love, be destroyed so senselessly.

This is the mandate of the terrorist.

* * * * * * * *

Watching the first building fall, I was aghast. At the time I had no idea the members of the NYFD had marched in there to save lives.

I am ashamed to admit, I was the first to chastise these guys for going in there. Surely they knew that structure could topple on them, that they might not come out alive. They had wives. They had children. What were they thinking? It dawned on me that these were the kind of guys who put their lives on the line every day, without hesitation. They probably went in there bent on saving every single person in that building, because who else was gonna do it? And I wonder, would I have had the courage to do that?

Every one of those guys … I cannot express how I feel about them.

* * * * * * * *

The image is indelible: the iconic New York Attitude.

It’s no wonder a lot of us cried. Seeing burly NY cops and Firefighters weeping, exhausted, faces smudged with dust and grime. These guys didn’t sleep; they had a job to do. Accounts from the time document that some of these guys had to be told to go home. They had been on the job for days. Emotional and physically wrecked, they soldiered on.

Those tough New Yorkers. Even there in the streets with billowing concrete dust obscuring their vision, faces ghost-like, they stand before the television cameras and talk to the media. They appear strong, stoic, as is their wont. I can see that, for the benefit of the television audience glued to their sets, that these people are putting on a brave face.  No one wants to cry in front of other people, especially a whole nation of people.

* * * * * * * *

Monday, September 11th, 2001

We’re parked at the side of Britannia road E. in Toronto, just in front of a runway at Pearson International Airport which ends beyond the large fence. It’s 9:30 PM, and the car is filled with the smell of Tim Horton’s coffee. We’re chatting quietly, but there isn’t much to say. We came out here on a whim because we couldn’t believe all air traffic in North America had been shut down. The gravity of it hits us, but we don’t cry. Guys won’t cry in front of other guys.

* * * * * * * *

America, New York, the World Trade Towers; as a Canadian they are almost an abstract thing. I eventually went to Manhattan years later, in 2006, visited Ground Zero even; Just a hole in the ground by then; no match for seeing those magnificent edifices in real time, rising into the sky. Only faded news clips, and old films are left. Man on Wire, the documentry about Philippe Petit, the man who wire-walked across the towers, I watch it and it makes me teary, I’ll admit. He felt a love for those buildings that was almost metaphysical. In 2001, these things were still an abstraction to me. I sat in that car at the airport watching the silent night skies, sipping my coffee, and wondering what it was all about. Almost ten years later, I still am at a loss for the meaning of it all.

* * * * * * * *

On a personal level, I never understood the terrorist mandate. I never understood how you could take a plane full of innocent people and then proceed to fly it into a building filled with more innocent people. My soul could not, and cannot, comprehend it. Cold blooded, cold blooded … and what’s more, I keep putting myself in that building; I’m there, I can’t help it. I want to know what those people felt when they knew their lives were going to end, when they opened up their cell phones and started calling out to people they loved. I wonder about those last messages. How do you say goodbye like that? How do you toss yourself from the window of a 110 story building? How do you march into a building as a firefighter knowing you may not walk out again, see the blue sky again, hold your kids or kiss your wife again?

* * * * * * * *

9 years later, the only meaning I can gather from any of this is, live life while it’s good, be happy, be alive, stop and smell the flowers once in a while, and remember the people of 9/11, lest we forget. || David Hunter

Originally posted in 2010

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