Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
- Community Blog
A Day in September
On a warm September morning, my four-year-old daughter, Daisy, and I were preparing to take Buddy, our Malamute, out for a walk. We’d eaten in the kitchen while watching the Cartoon Network on the small TV that rested on the counter. While Daisy went to the bathroom, I stood up and changed the channel. Once I’d gotten past all the kids’ stations I hit a news station showing something that challenged my sense of reality: the World Trade Center burning. I couldn’t believe it. As the broadcaster explained what was happening, I sat down. I knew we wouldn’t be going for a walk that morning.
The air seemed to lie thinly at the base of my lungs, constricted and toxic, as I helplessly watched, again and again, people jumping from the windows of the Twin Towers. The ones who were able, leaped hand in hand with one another. My heart ached for every one of them, but for the victims forced to leap alone, the circumstances seemed especially cruel. What a desperate and terrible choice for them all. Daisy didn’t understand, and I sent her into the other room to watch cartoons. This can’t be happening. I thought. Not here. Not in America. Not in New York City.
News stations candidly recorded the pedestrians of Manhattan; usually an eclectic throng of ambulating commuters, vagabonds, and tenants whose constant journey was intermittently interrupted by bothersome traffic lights before being allowed to continue its restless migration through the cement canyons and over the concrete pathways of the New York Island. But on this day the crowd had come to a collective halt, paralyzed by a sort of contained panic that had abruptly halted the natural movement of the herd. And as it ceased its nomadic quest it became clear, as the cameras slowly panned the streets, that the throng was not a single entity but a collection of hundreds of people, each person an individual with his own story and a separate life that branched out and touched many other lives. They stood on the sidewalks of Broadway and Wall Street looking up as the distressed Twin Towers sent up plumes of smoke into the late summer sky, burning from the inside out. In Times Square people stared helplessly up at the Jumbotrons that displayed the horror as it unfolded. Each pedestrian’s face the news recorded in Midtown and Lower Manhattan reflected outrage, disbelief, confusion, or private sorrow. It was clear that the ones who stared up at the Twin Towers with tears running down their cheeks and expressions of profound misery on their faces had loved ones still inside. Some gaped, their eyes rolled skyward, while others applied hands over open mouths as if they were attempting to force the screams, which threatened to erupt into localized hysteria, back down their throats.
My wife, April, called from work after I’d been watching TV for an hour. “Do you see what’s happening?” she asked. I could hear the sorrow in her voice, and I could feel the dampness of her tears through the telephone.
“Yeah,” I said numbly. “I see.”
I continued to watch the news broadcast in the kitchen while April monitored the one in her break room at work. We didn’t say anything further as we both dealt with our pain privately but at the same time silently sharing it with each other. “I’ve got to go,” she said, her voice cracking.
“I know,” I replied. April and I hung up our phones and then we separately returned to the harsh realities of our new world.
Later I watched in disbelief as the Towers, one and then the other, crumbled to the ground. As a camera in Brooklyn, across the East River, recorded the second Tower collapsing, the voice of an unseen woman screamed in agony: “Nooo!”
I didn’t want to believe it either.
Soon, images from Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries polluted the airwaves. I was filled with hate as I watched the filthy people of these countries cheering and shooting their guns off in celebration of our great loss. I wanted immediate retribution. I wanted that entire section of the world, except of course for Israel, to be carpet-bombed and thoroughly napalmed until it resembled nothing but a nuclear burned moonscape.
I knew that most of the gleeful peasants dancing in the arid dirt squares of their mud villages probably didn’t even know why they hated us. Their religious and tribal leaders had told them that they should, and, like obedient children, the peasants blindly followed their leaders’ advocacy of hate. If any of them actually do possess any genuine feelings of their own regarding our wonderful country, it’s jealousy. Our country’s fundamental doctrine, our people, our values, and our ideas are rich with freedom, liberty, and natural wonder, concepts that the primitive peasants celebrating our pain could never even dream of understanding.