Our trip to New York City culminated with a visit to Ground Zero on the second day of a four-day trip. Not much else seemed that important to me afterward.
We weaved through a maze of fenced-in walkways lined with security cameras, volunteer ushers and New York’s Finest before finding ourselves in the expansive World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial. Inverted fountains and reflecting pools have replaced the Twin Towers, and are lined by bronze parapets bearing the names of some 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993 (the first WTC bombing).
Even the kids were quiet. Children and teens were dutifully somber, after a stern warning from their parents.
Our little national adventure began in that spot 11 years ago, when my roommate in Los Angeles – a great American named Suk (pronounced souk, like an Arabic market) – awakened me in time to watch TV footage of the North Tower collapsing at 10:28 a.m. ET. We lived next to a runway at Los Angeles International Airport. Within two hours, airspace over the United States had been cleared of aircraft. The ubiquitous roar of 747 engines – which often drowned out our TV audio – was replaced by dead silence.
A couple of sounds prevail over all others in Manhattan: jackhammers pounding asphalt and sirens. Maybe a third: plywood being dropped from double-digit floors onto the ground in a hard hat area. Despite the cacophony at the 9/11 memorial, it was serene enough to reflect a little.
A handful of us stood in the area between where the North and South Towers once stood at the World Trade Center and wondered whether our lives would be any different if 9/11 never happened. Maybe there would’ve been a decade-long war, but probably not. We were sure we’d be fighting someone – if we weren’t hunting one set of bad guys, we’d be hunting another. The American sense of invincibility might still be intact, or maybe something else would’ve happened to change our psyche.
Who might still be alive if we never went to war? You could go crazy wondering, What if? I’m barely able to keep up with what is.
Surrounded by the names of 3,000 fallen at a very real memorial, I was reminded of a bit of wisdom I gleaned from recent pop culture. So today, as we remember those we lost on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I’ll leave you with a tidbit from one of my favorite post-9/11 TV shows, “Rescue Me,” starring Denis Leary as an edgy, grieving New York City firefighter. The old guy is a character named Chief Feinberg, and his sage thoughts speak for themselves.