911

Ten years

September 11 from space
Lower Manhattan from space, about 11am, September 11, 2001. Photo credit: NASA


All the possible words have long since been said.

It is people we mourn, not buildings: the parents and children, the co-workers and friends, the brave and the terrified, the uniformed first responders of all agencies who walked into hell, the everyday New Yorkers caught at their desks, the passengers looking out windows and seeing a rushing cityscape that could lead to only one hideous conclusion.

  Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street
  Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, looking south, about 11 am, September 11, 2001.

We mourn the people. The buildings are mere proxies that stand for an absence too terrible to bear. Never before has private, everyday loss been so visible to so many. For New Yorkers who grew up seeing the Towers — or for those of my generation, who grew up watching them rise, floor-by-floor, distant down the length of Flatbush Avenue — they were part of the firmament, like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building. To see the skyline these past ten years has been to be visibly, viscerally reminded of all those lives gone. The absent Towers are the world's largest headstones.

Although I continued to work in Manhattan for another year, I never went near Ground Zero. And never have since. Even those occasions where I had to drive by on the way to Brooklyn have been almost impossible. I know that someday, soon, I'll have to visit the Memorial. I don't expect closure; anyone who has experienced true loss knows what an empty concept that is. But those who have experienced loss — and survived — do know one dark secret: the only way out is through.

On this day of remembrance, I hope that all the families, and friends, and colleagues, everyone touched by this shadow, can find some measure of peace as we all move on together.

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Localblogging, 02871, 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.

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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.

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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.

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Localblogging, 02871, 911