Sunday, September 11, 2016

A kind of September...

Fifteen years ago, I was getting ready for work. Ten days before, I had finally made it to Manhattan.

My first trip to New York City, on Sept. 1, 2001, was magic. Perfect weather. Perfect day.

Well, almost perfect. The good news is I got to meet my hero Thomas Magnum, aka actor Tom Selleck, who was appearing that season in a revival of Herb Gardner's "A Thousand Clowns." The bad news is I was starstruck and speechless.

Anyway, Drew Weaver, Scott Frith, and I were there that Labor Day weekend. We took a train into Grand Central Station from Connecticut. Everything I'd wanted to do, dreams derived from the pages of The New Yorker, halfway pretending I was going to be a guest on "What's My Line," for that spectacular Saturday, I got to pretend.

Ten days later, everything changed.

Pieces remembered: My late grandfather knocking on the bathroom door to tell me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers (this was at 8:46 a.m.). Getting downstairs just as the second plane hit. Turning on NPR on the way to work, listening to Bob Edwards try to explain the chaos. Getting a phone call from Doug from the Rotary Club. Watching the news at work on a portable black-and-white television set. Wishing I were with my family.

That night, I thought the thing to do was go watch television coverage with my mother.  Even though I was in my 20s, a college graduate, and gainfully employed, I knew I was no longer El Gallo's tender and callow fellow, to quote the song from "The Fantasticks." 

I eventually learned I knew a family who lost their brother that day. They planted a tree for Tony Karnes at Gibbs High School later that year.

Visiting Ground Zero with Drew the following February was sobering to say the least. We went downtown, and nobody, and I mean nobody, was saying a word.

We looked at the handmade memorials. One quoted Jack Kerouac. Another one needed no poetic prose: "Osama: Kiss my ass."

I thought everything would change. I thought the partisanship that had marred much of the 1990s and the 2000 presidential election was gone. The civilized parts of the world were united.

Well, you know how that turned out.

I have to tell myself that goodness can arise from the aftermath of atrocities, but post-9/11, it was difficult to see how.

Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said it as well as anyone on a PBS documentary a few years after the attacks. 

 "9/11, how can you possibly use it for a good purpose? Look, what this reminds you of is the importance of your own life, and making the most of it, because you can lose it in a flash. And if that's all you learned from 9/11, if that's all you remembered, that, my god, that you could extinguish life so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and it could happen to me, and therefore I should think harder about the way I spend my life instead of wasting it...

"Now, it's not going to teach you what to do with your life, but it will teach you to do with your life, and to do it more and quicker and better."

Fifteen years, after all, went slip sliding away, and much of the nation, indeed much of the world, is starving for stability, and sanity, for people doing more, quicker and better.

Never forget the first responders. Never forget the fallen. Never forget the day. Never forget Cuomo's words.

Never forget.

But try too, if you can, to remember El Gallo's kind of September, when no one wept except the willow.

Otherwise, these bastards have won.

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