More About Ground Zero

Ladonna wrote in yesterday's comments about her reactions to visiting Ground Zero. She reminded me of a column I wrote but never finished in 2004, after seeing Ground Zero myself. I don't know. I'm having a bit of a hard time today. It is a cool, gray, rainy day in New York --as if the heavens themselves are crying in Memoriam-- and I can't think of much else but the tragic anniversary yesterday and how fast these seven years have passed, even though it seems that not much has changed. Anyway, I thought y'all might like this, even though it's not finished. It may never be finished.

So the thing is… maybe it’s not such an Impossible Dream.

At the end of October (2004), I met a few girlfriends in New York City. One of my friends is from Canada and one from Australia and we all met for a wonderful childless weekend to paint the town (at our advanced ages) a pale pink.

We all brought a few things that represented our native lands. I took some Texas treats with me –goofy boot and longhorn shaped cookie cutters, some hot jalapeno jelly and a few CDs from Texas artists. One of them, Patty Griffin’s Impossible Dream, became the soundtrack of the weekend for me. It’s a bit of a melancholy record –Griffin is a sensitive singer/songwriter and I think this record reflects the uncertainty of our times.

We're just like anyone else
We just want a little bit
Of sun for ourselves
And a little bit of rain
To make it all grow
Maybe a minute or two
To get lost in the glow
Of love

I met this group of women when I first was pregnant with Ana. We met on a board at for mothers with children due in March 1998 and unbelievably, it’s been seven years now. We’ve had subsequent children —or not. And subsequent husbands –or not. We’ve been stay-at-home moms -- or not. It’s a very diverse group, which is comforting in these times when diversity seems so threatening. Because we really love each other, despite our differences.

We had a New York City gathering because our Australian friend Trish was coming for a visit and it’s not like she comes from Australia every day or even every YEAR. Trish has been displaying an almost rabid interest in our political process and it’s been pretty funny to see how the Americans on our board have tried very hard to remain diplomatically silent. Or not. But even when our discussions have gotten heated, there is a respect for our freedom to make up our own minds; an unwritten rule that we don’t really care much which side of the fence you end up on, as long as you’ve given that fence some good thought.

There's always someone throwing matches around
Waving the shiny new knife
The first to run when the house burns down
I've seen it every day of my life

The most meaningful day in New York for me was the day we went to Ground Zero. I confess to having tears in my eyes when I flew in and saw the skyline so irrevocably changed. But it’s been three years and I’ve moved past the enormous grief of those days in September 2001. That’s what happens, I guess –we return to our daily lives and gradually the sadness fades a bit and it’s no longer like a knot in our stomachs all the time. I still feel bad every time I see the images on TV but I haven’t been so despairing.

I wasn’t prepared for the reality, though.

It was just shocking. This huge NOTHINGNESS. This great quiet. All of us, visitors from all over the world, walked around the site where the World Trade Center once stood, in utter silence. In the middle of New York City, on a busy Saturday morning, at Ground Zero, there was this stunned stillness. There just weren’t any words to describe what we were feeling. It felt holy. It was shattering. The huge, aching sorrow I felt must be some faint shadow of God’s own.

Directly across the street from the site is St. Paul’s Chapel which was curiously untouched by the attacks. The church credits a large sycamore tree that shielded it from falling debris as the towers fell -- it didn’t even sustain a broken window. On September 11th, 2001, in the midst of what must have seemed like Armageddon, this little church, built in 1766, stood unscathed.

After the attack on September 11, 2001, St. Paul's served as a refuge for recovery workers at the WTC site. It was the fence around St. Paul’s where countless flowers and cards and teddy bears were left by people wanting to do something —some small thing -- to express comfort to the people of New York City. It was also where people posted pictures of missing loved ones in hopes that someone had seen them somewhere. In hope.

For eight months, hundreds of volunteers worked around the clock, serving meals, making beds, counseling and praying with fire fighters, construction workers, police and others. Today, inside the church, an exhibit has been created entitled “Unwavering Spirit: Hope & Healing at Ground Zero.” It was there that my friends and I (and practically every other visitor I saw) cried as we read the letters from the children around the world and saw the cots that the legions of volunteers rested upon. The photos… I just can’t describe how moving it was. When I saw the response to the hatred of those attacks, the largeness of spirit and the unity…I have never been prouder of my country. And actually, I really felt like the whole world shared our outrage and grief and pride.

I must confess there appears to be
Way more darkness than light
I want to fall like a pearl
To the bottom of the sea
There no one will find us tonight

Three years later, it was a little weird for me to be the sole representative of America in the group and to hear the criticism (benign as it was since we’re friends) of my country’s foreign policy since the attacks on 9/11. I tried to really listen because it’s easy to live in Texas and forget that I’m part of this global community and that the rest of the world feels the impact of the decisions that are made by America.

I’m so conflicted over this war, you know, and really sickened by the cruelty and depravity displayed by some of my own countrymen. And then again, heartsick for the ones who have died and their families who must now find a life without them. It’s such a waste of human potential –all this death and pain and suffering. I don’t know how to reconcile the very human desire for vengeance over the innocents lost at Ground Zero with my spiritual belief that war is wrong.

It might look pretty bad
We might lose everything
We thought that we had

And honestly, I support and pray for our troops but I just don’t understand what we’re DOING over there. I don’t see a measurable effect on Al Queda, especially with the video released by Osama Bin Laden last November where, “Not only is he not captured and very much alive, he looks like he's been hiding out in St-Tropez,” as Newsweek said.

I can’t stand the thought of the loss of life—so much potential just…gone. Just like September 11, there is nothing-- no moral righteousness, no child’s grief --that will bring back even one lost parent. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE things I believe in enough to die for them. Not just my children, although they are the first reasons that come to mind. I’d like to think that I would have gone into the Twin Towers to try to save someone. I love my country and I would fight to the death to protect the principles on which it was founded –the constitution that promises equality and freedom of expression and religion. But I don’t understand why people are still dying in Iraq.

But shadows will pass
Smoke, it will clear
If something survives of us around here
I'll be glad 'cause I know
I was lost in the glow
Of love

"The framers of the constitution knew human nature as well as we do. They too had lived in dangerous days; they too knew the suffocating influence of orthodoxy and standardized thought. They weighed the compulsions for restrained speech and thought against the abuses of liberty. They chose liberty." William Orville Douglas

I know this column needs an ending. I guess I don't feel like it can be finished until this war is finally over and our people get to come back home. Meanwhile, I'll be back to my usual superficial goofiness and maybe some knitting in my next post...


Repeat after me: Al Quaeda wasn't in Iraq. At least, not until we smashed in there and created a huge power vacuum...

The war in Afghanistan at least made strategic sense - we weren't looking for revenge, we were looking to prevent a second 9/11 by getting Osama. There was a war because the Taliban refused to turn him over and did not seem averse to sheltering Al Quaeda and other fundamental Islamic terrorist groups which might plot such attacks. Revenge would have made no sense. We can't get those people back.
Anonymous said…
"Three years later, it was a little weird for me to be the sole representative of America in the group and to hear the criticism (benign as it was since we’re friends) of my country’s foreign policy since the attacks on 9/11."

I had a very similar experience the actual day of the attacks and in the subsequent few days. I was working on a book at the time that had me in regular contact with a number of people in Australia. They were, universally, the nicest people I've ever met--I have to think that Australia would be a great place to live--and they were sympathetic as could be. But eventually nearly all of them said, delicately and as inoffensively as possible, "Well...what did you expect?"
hokgardner said…
I went to the WTC site in 2006 during a trip to NYC, and I was amazed at how moved I was. At the time, it was essentially just a big construction hole in the ground, but the absence of what had been was so profound. I was also amazed at the quiet of the site. In a city so full of noise and bustle, there was this one area where people spoke in whispers and no one played music or hawked souveneirs.
MadMad said…
Ah... you should be writing, hon. And not grant-writing, either.
Tiffany said…
@SuburbanCorrespondent: So easy to let our hot buttons get in the way of our reading comprehension, isn't it? I just love when something written in the moment, like Barb's post here, reminds us of pieces we might have forgotten in the long string of lies and abuses. Remember how, just after Hussein was captured in late 2003, a shocking percentage of Americans polled believed that he was behind the 9/11 attacks? Maybe this June of 2004 CNN article will help refresh your memory as to the climate in which Barb was writing (and help you understand the point she was making) . They had to have something to fall back on, after all, after that little WMD thing fell through.

I didn't think Barb was at all unclear on her perspective, especially since the rest of the post was all about HOW THERE WAS NO REASON FOR US TO BE IN THIS WAR, but I'm going to chalk the misunderstanding up to the kind of understandable brain freeze that occurs after hearing Sarah Palin tell her son's unit that they're going off to fight the guys who planned 9/11 in Iraq. Just try to remember who the good guys are.
DK said…
I agree so much, Barb. All of it feels so unfinished.

I don't envy McCain or Obama the job of trying to make some sense and something productive out of the situation we're in while drying to draw it to some sort of rational conclusion.

I think we all know that I occasionally lean so far politically to the left I almost fall over, so, I also agree with you that there was no apparent good reason for this war. I certainly see no reason for us to still be in it. And in fact, I think there is much we as the American public doesn't know about, by design. Not to be all conspiracy theorist, but it's ridiculous that Bin Laden's been so evasive. That Al Qaeda could sucker punch us is such a manner. It...well, it makes me suspicious. There's ample evidence that the US knew the Pearl Harbor attack was going to happen and did nothing, allowing themselves an entrez into WWII.

I don't know.

And the sort of cowboy justice we've been doling out ever since is an embarassment. I really think histor will bear out GWB as one of the worst presidents in American history, and I have NO doubt that much of what happened after 9/11 and possibly even before it was to further the Bush administration's own political and personal agendas.

Having said that, I remain ever grateful that I live in a country where I can say something like that so openly, and am eternally grateful to all those men, women, and children who have given their lives, voluntarily or otherwise, for me to have those rights and that voice.

The psychology of war has always been fascinating to me. Whether it truly is or not, this war has been presented as one of vengence and posturing. The American people have generated this very post-modernist, reactive, hit-it-hard, do-it-now, instant gratification kind of culture. Which has nothing to do with fast food or MTV - this has been building for well over 200 years. Part of it is the ideals on which we were founded, on how that freedom of expression and freedom for authenticity roars sometimes. Part of it is our youth, literal or otherwise - America has long been the impetuous teenager of the global environment, in so many respects.

SC, I understand and agree with the sentiment of how we can't avenge the gravity of the wrongs done. I disagree that we didn't try, that we instead used political stragies that made sense. There is no sense in so much of this.

But what it comes down to, and I think, Rockstories, you made a very salient point by recalling the cultural climate in 2003 and what's changed and what hasn't, is that so much of this just makes no sense from a humanist, emotional perspective. There's so much loss around the events of 9/11/01 and the legacy of the country ever since. When I read your reflections on standing in Ground Zero, Barb, it really hits home that political strategies, rationalizations, criticizms, and theory all pale in the light of the human cost, in lives lost, in our damaged sense of safety, in the moral compromises made on all sides in the name of a justice that never could be found, and in the implications beyond our own shores and our own morale. In what it has symbolized for the human collective and for the moral, ethical, and emotional freedoms of the global community. What a tragedy for all mankind.

Well, that was long. So now back to our regularly scheduled yarning...
LaDonna said…
Barb, I'm not going to jump into the political debate that's started here because, honestly, I don't think that's why you posted this blog entry.

"It felt holy."

Yes, that's exactly how it felt. While your entry was written three years after 9/11, I was there 6 years after, and it's funny how similar our experiences were.

There was a weight to the place. A weight of sorrow, of pain, and of loss, and it was all a 10 minute subway ride from the party like atmosphere of Time Square and Broadway. It was like this place had been set aside, and through some unwritten rule, every individual to arrive at that place just knew that this was a place for quiet, for reflection, for prayer, and for remembering.

I remember where I was very clearly that day. I remember the entire timeline of that awful morning. I remember the fear and panic. I remember trying to explain to my 5 year old why everyone was so sad.

And last week Thursday, when MSNBC spent the morning replaying the footage from that day, the pit returned to my stomach and I remembered again.

You know what? I don't want to forget.