911

Seeing September 11

Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street
New York City, Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, looking South, about 11 am, September 11, 2001.



One of the things that haunts me about September 11 is that it is quite likely I saw the first plane on its way toward the north tower and didn't notice. I was working just off Times Square in Manhattan, and would typically get into Grand Central around 8:30 and walk west on 47th. There would have been a moment, looking down the street ahead of me, where American Airlines flight 11 would have screamed by, right to left, visible briefly past the canyon of buildings.

But why would I have noticed? One of the typical approaches to LaGuardia used to run south along the Hudson, with a left turn between the Battery and Statue of Liberty and off into a crosswind leg over Brooklyn. This plane might have been moving too fast, been a little close to the skyline for that point in the approach, but those are things that only take on significance in retrospect, through the lens of the day's events. I do remember walking to work, I remember the crisp blueness of the sky, so I was clearly looking. I just wasn't seeing.

The tiny details that should warn us of impending tragedy often take on significance only in retrospect. In the moment, they are merely specks moving through our field of vision. Candidates for the national assembly talk about the prospect of armed resistance and question civil rights. Powerful new media turn religious centers into symbols of global conspiracy. Books perceived as alien to the dominant culture are targeted for burning. It is 1939, and events scream across the sky, unnoticed, while you're walking to work.

The twin cognitive demons of risk compensation and alarm fatigue are never far from the site of tragic system failures.

We must look, but we must also see.

Please keep in your thoughts and prayers today those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, and especially the heroes from the NYFD, NYPD, Port Authority Police, and other first responders.

Tags: 
Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, 911

Eight years

Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street
New York City, Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, looking South, about 11 am, September 11, 2001.



I was in New York City on 9/11, working in an office just off Times Square. For a while, our whole department huddled around someone's tiny black&white TV, no cable, just a fuzzy antenna picture of what was happening a couple of miles away. Like everyone else, we were afraid: here we were, in a tall office building, half a block from a very obvious target. Anyone who was in the city that day knows the irrational, undeniable fear that comes from being under a terrorist attack. I understood in a very different way what it would have felt like to live in London during the Blitz, or just outside Hickam Field.

And then, a couple of us walked across town, and I knew, looking down Fifth Avenue, a very different experience: what it felt like to be in Miyajima-Guchi down the road from Hiroshima.

Looking down a broad, sunlit boulevard and seeing an enormous, roiling cloud carrying within it the death of thousands.

Please keep in your thoughts and prayers today the families and friends of all those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, and especially the heroes from the NYFD, NYPD, and Port Authority Police.

Tags: 
Localblogging, 02871, 911

Seven years

Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street
New York City, Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, looking South, about 11 am, September 11, 2001.



This is a rough day for me; has been every year. I was in NY on 9/11, working in an office just off Times Square, and the picture above is what I saw. There are so many people who had such horrible experiences that it's hard for me to even justify how awful remembering this day makes me feel. But it does.

Please keep in your thoughts and prayers today those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, and especially the heroes from the NYFD, NYPD, and Port Authority Police.

Back to our regular publishing schedule tomorrow.

Tags: 
Localblogging, 02871, 911