Clever! The Gothamist has created appropriate news coverage out of inappropriate news coverage of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 (9/11) terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and other points unknown (see, United Flight 93). That’s kind of like when the Husband walks in on me practicing Ashtanga, hands on hips, eyes narrowed, and says, “Hey, I fed the kids breakfast/took out the garbage/flossed my teeth/scratched my ass while you were practicing yoga, and I didn’t even interrupt you. You should thank me for not interrupting you. How come you never thank me for not interrupting you? Hello?! Why are you staring at your nose all crosseyed like that?”
So, yeah, no, it can’t all be appropriate news coverage. I mean, if it were, how awfully boring that would be. Notice, for example, how I didn’t even mention the Susan Komen Race for the Cure yesterday (actually, I am not a big fan of the Komen organization, but we can talk about that in October, you know, the pink month, the month where we get beaten about the head by breast cancer coverage). Even I don’t always jump on the Relevant and Timely Bandwagon to spice up my blog.
That said, I have some appropriate thoughts for today, as well as, of course, some inappropriate thoughts for today. Which shall I start with? Hmmm. Well, I suppose it’s best to start with the inappropriate because then we have somewhere to go from there.
So, here goes:
Yoga Chickie’s Egocentric and Inappropriate News Coverage of the Fifth Anniversary of the Events of 9/11
The traffic getting down to Shala X was HORRENDOUS. It made me want to scream at the police cars and ambulances making their way down toward Ground Zero, gratuitously pulling rank by turning on their sirens, or so it seemed: “Dont you people know I have a very important reason for needing to get down to the shala by 9 a.m.? Don’t you know that I need to get one of my last 12 adjustments in Supta Kurmasana before Sir heads out to India?!”
The FDR Drive, which was closed south of the Houston Street exit (HOW-ston, for all you hayseeds out there, just kidding, not about the pronunciation, but about calling you hayseeds) in order to keep traffic out of the downtown/ground zero area, was essentially a parking lot. I sat in my car and helplessly listened to the news coverage of today’s Ground Zero events. There were moments of silence punctuating the coverage, representing the times at which the planes hit, and the times at which the Towers collapsed.
The names of the dead were being read, one after another, by women with horrendous New YAWK accents. It made me feel sad for the families (except for those families who cultivate their New YAWK accents). Why couldn’t they get someone with a nice, milquetoast accent to read the names? If it were me, I would want my name to be read by someone with an accent like the one Madonna is cultivating. Law-Wren Sah-MAHN-Tha Caaaaahn. Nothing about my first name is intended to rhyme with the word “mall” or “sin”, and my last name most certainly does not rhyme with “lawn”.
But enough about me, let’s talk about my yoga practice. I was kind of bummed because after all that drama in getting down to the Shala, my practice was kind of blah. A seven on a scale of one to ten. A little too stiff. A little to cold. A little too many Walkers Shortbread Cookies last night (damn you, my friend, Chris, for giving me two boxes of these. That’s the thanks I get for having you as my guest in Fire Island? Pure butter, the box says, and sugar, which you would never eat, yourself, lest it launch you into an exercise bulimic Spin-Class binge…damn you, evil woman!) I didn’t have time to do backbends or the finishing sequence. After Supta Kurmasana, I just did the three Padmasanas and that was that (until I got home and did everything in between).
Yoga Chickie’s Highly Personal but Hopefully Appropriate News Coverage of the Fifth Anniversary of the Events of 9/11/2001
I was still in my apartment when the first plane hit the first Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was supposed to be heading down to a meeting on Wall Street, and I was running a bit late. The phone rang. It was my mom. She wanted me to stay put. I told her “nothing doing. I have a meeting downtown, plane crash or no.” My mom was pretty sure the world was ending. I thought that was a bit melodramatic for some accidental plane crash into a building that was a least a good 10 blocks from where my meeting was to take place.
With the second plane crash, my cynicism quickly veered to confusion to denial and back again, several times over. It wasn’t until close to an hour later, when the first Tower collapsed that I realized that there would not only be no meeting, but there would be no work that day either. It wasn’t until I started watching the news coverage on the television, and I saw the scattered papers blowing everwhere, and I heard the news reporter mention that some of the papers bore the name “Cantor Fitzgerald” that I realized that I knew more than just a handful of people who were probably in one of the Twin Towers that morning.
I called Jennifer, an old friend from Tufts, who was married to the CFO of Cantor Fitzgerald and who had two young children with him. She told me that there had been no word from Doug. No phone call. No word from him since the plane hit the building. No news of him at all. She told me that Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices were above where the plane had hit. This was not good. But at the time, it meant nothing to me. Nothing could have happened to Doug. Or Mark Z, with whom we had spent a summer (or was it two?) at the Clearwater Beach Club. Or Howard Lutnick, who was Doug’s best friend and the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald; or Howard’s younger brother, Gary; or Howard’s brother-in-law (also called Gary), who was a former neighbor of mine. Nothing could have happened to anyone I knew. They had to have gotten out safely.
But things I never fathomed could happen had happened. Were happening. There was no word on Mark Z. I hadn’t yet heard about Gary Lutnick’s last phone call. Or that the other Gary was safe and sound, having been fortunate enough to have not been at work that morning.
Hours passed. Brian’s preschool was closed indefinitely (meaning not that it would never re-open, just that a re-opening had not been scheduled), and I actually felt a measure of happiness: a chance to spend some time with my children instead of going to work and sending Brian off to school (Adam was only two at the time). The Husband had been at work for many hours already, and I was beginning to harass him about getting home. Clearly, he was even deeper in denial than I was. In the meantime, I decided to do what it turns out that many Upper East Side moms had also decided to do: turn off the scary-ass news coverage, get a little respite from the terror, and take the kids out to the playground.
What I did not anticipate was the smell. It was as if the entire city were on fire. Even on the Upper East Side, our nostrils filled with the smell of burning God-knows-what. It did not occur to me until much much later, years later even, that I was breathing in the scent not only of burning buildings and seering steel plane debris, but also the acrid odor of charred human flesh, of lost lives.
Seemingly oblivious to the smell, the children went about their playground games, swinging on the swings, building castles in the sandbox, climbing the monkey-bars. Yet the smell reminded the moms in the playground that this was no ordinary day on the park bench. That, as well as the dark military planes and helicopters that flew low in the preternaturally cloudless blue skies over Carl Schurz Park. Amid the innocent laughter of the children, the moms were quiet. There was nothing much we could say. None of us out there were waiting for our husbands to call. None of us wanted to talk about the friends of ours who were. Besides, the vastness of the tragedy had not yet fully bloomed into our understanding. It was there, a small, hard seed. But at that point, we couldn’t (or wouldn’t let ourselves) see it in full.
It was at the playground that I began to wonder about plans I had made with a friend to have cocktails the next evening. Would I still have those plans? Perhaps I should cancel? Perhaps my friend would cancel? Would the events of 9/11 transform into a convenient excuse to blow-off plans we didn’t really want? A part of me felt irritated and inconvenienced. And then another part of me felt terrible for feeling irritated and inconvenienced. I wondered about whether I would be expected at work the next day. I certainly hoped not. Not only was I happy to be home from work, but there was a small part of me, deep down inside, that was terrified to re-enter the working world, a world where people died just because they went to work in the morning (especially, if they got there early). I wondered whether Brian’s preschool would re-open soon, and if so, would my mother harass me into not sending Brian there, fearing for his safety (for me, the denial was still at such a great level that I could not even fathom that anyone in my family could be in any kind of danger).
Back at home later on, I called Jennifer once again. She had still not heard from Doug. I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable calling her every few hours to ask, “Have you heard from Doug?” At the same time, I didn’t want to appear to have abandoned her in her time of need. She was already losing hope, even then. What remained was the hope that he was injured enough so that he could not make a phone call, but not injured enough to kill him or effect his future in any way. By the next day, when the notion that Doug could actually be alive (but not be in contact with his beloved family?!) went from a remote possibility to the borderline absurd, all of Jennifer’s hope was gone. Her friends rallied around her. We talked about nothing and everything. Her life as a widowed mother of two had begun.
Hope had begun to evaporate for many others as well, although perhaps not as quickly. Grand Central Station was plastered with hundreds of missing-person flyers. The flyers spoke brightly, then falteringly, and then almost sheepishly, of hope. The shining and (for the most part) youthful-looking faces smiling out from the flyers had to be out there somewhere. Didn’t they? These people had no plans to be dead as of September 11, 2001. They had lives to go back to. They had absolutely no business being dead. Right? But the truth was as stark and as simple as the matter of empty hospitals.
It was shocking to many, myself included, that the hospitals were not flooded with injuries. That first day, we all thought about how we could help by donating blood, or donating cookies and juice boxes to others donating blood. But by only the second day, we knew that there was virtually no one to whom a blood donation might go. New York City hospitals had geared up for an unprecedented influx of trauma patients in their ER’s. But for the most part, no one showed. The ER’s must have felt ghostly, waiting for would-be patients who were never coming, would-be patients whose families phoned every hospital in New York City to ask, “Have you seen my husband? My wife? My sister? My mother?”
“I’m sorry. We have no patient by that name.”
Jennifer began planning Doug’s memorial within a day or two. She needed the closure. As we all know by now, Howard Lutnick was not in the Tower when the plane hit: he had been taking his son to his first day of school up in Riverdale and planned to come into the office later. What divine intervention/luciferous pact had spared him? And was being spared a blessing or a curse for a man who was first hoisted upon the shoulders of a crowd searching for leadership and then thrown to the ground to be stomped upon by those who had entered the “anger” phase of their grieving?
Howard’s brother, Gary, survived the plane’s crash into his Tower, but only long enough for him to recognize that his young and unfinished life was about to come to an abrupt end. This gave him the chance to call his beloved sister, Edie, to say goodbye. I dare not even imagine what that must have felt like for either of them. I never learned how Mark Z’s life came to an end. But I do know that his second child was born shortly thereafter and that his sister recently got married for the first time, to an old friend of mine, and is now pregnant with her first child – I hope it’s a boy and that they name him Mark.
The rest of us tentatively went on with our lives, or some version thereof. Gradually, our trepidation was supplanted by a numb understanding that all of the anxiety in the world wasn’t going to change what might happen to us next. There was no way to stop the march of reality back into the hellish nightmare world into which we were plunged on September 11, 2001. We had to get back to work. We had to take public transportation. We had to send our children to school. We had to worship at our synagogues. Sometimes we had to enter government buildings, like if we wanted to renew our drivers licenses. And after a while, if we couldn’t do these things, no one was going to have much sympathy for us. And so, we went on. On a mundane level, our lives came back.
Or something like that.
I did not lose my spouse or my office on September 11, 2001, but my life had been changed inexorably. It would be redundant for me to explain how on a macro level, the world changed in an instant on September 11, 2001. But I am sure that I am not alone in feeling that on that day, on a micro level, my own world shifted. And not for the better. There was a pervasive and yet highly intangible bad mood going on in New York City for months and months after September 11. My law firm felt morgue-like. As the financial health of our city foundered, business dwindled. People kind of hid in their offices with their doors closed. The “collegial” environment evaporated. In my social circles, tensions arose between friends who feared for their safety and friends who scoffed at such fears. Some of the former went so far as to leave the city. Sometimes for good, sometimes for a period of days, weeks or months. I felt like my life no longer stood on stable ground. This made me feel angry and inconvienced, anxious and irritable. I felt victimized. I didn’t like change. And things had changed. And there was nothing I could do about it.
But my dismay at being inconvenienced was nothing compared to the dismay of the widows, children and parents of those who went to work on September 11 and never came home, having become casualties in a war in which they had not elected to fight. Nothing compared to the unfinished lives of those for whom the reward for showing up at work was a torturous death. Who would have ever thought that simply going to work would put an end to his or her life? As a formerly full-time working mom, this had always been my unspoken nightmare. I found myself wondering: how many of the dead woke up that morning, like every other morning, dreading going to their offices? How many of the moms who lost their lives spent their last moments on earth wishing that they had chosen to stay at home with their babies?
For some, the most disheartening aspect of losing their loved one(s) on September 11, 2001 is that it happened on such an incredibly “mass” level, so that the loss seems, at least to others, somehow diluted, reduced to a “one-of-many” situation. No individual’s loss should have to be lumped in with anyone else’s. And yet this is what resulted from the mass destruction of life on September 11, 2001. My friend Jennifer did not want to be “one of the 9/11 widows”. She wasn’t a joiner when it came to the loss of Doug, and I can understand that. I would have felt the same. I don’t think that, if it were me, I would be one of those at Ground Zero today, digging through the dirt, kissing the dirt. I would want to remember my loss in solitude and not imagine that the dirt at Ground Zero is somehow a connection to my lost loved one.
But that’s just me. My faith tells me that those who are lost are still with us as long as we remember them. And so in that spirit, I give you the names of three whose lives were lost that day, who touched my life and whose loss I have felt in some way or another, so that you can reflect on them, if only for the moment it takes to read their names: