There used to be an ad campaign with this title. It always seemed so silly to me.
I was born in the New York metropolitan area. My parents were both native New Yawkas, having grown up within just a few miles of each other. My maternal relatives were from Brooklyn; my paternal grands were originally from Pittsburgh, then moved to Chicago, then finally settled in New York, my grandfather finding work as a musician that provided a salary, the majority of which was saved in the bank and that fed a family of four through the Depression, when work was scarce for about five years.
Going into “The City” was always a special time. New York City is so big that it contains five NY Counties – known as “Boroughs.” Manhattan Island – or New York County – is the one we always thought of as “The City.” The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and other skyscrapers as they were called, brought a measure of awe to my young mind, even inspiring a level of fear.
As I said, it was usually a special occasion that brought us to “The City” – visiting Dad at work (and he had some really cool work as a top 40 DJ on WABC); or maybe catching dinner and a show at Radio City with grandma during that special weekend with her the summer between second and third grade. As time went on, trips to the City included sports events in Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, or concerts. Or just a walk on Fifth Avenue around Christmas, enjoying the amazing window displays of stores like FAO Schwartz, Bloomingdales, and of course, Tiffany’s.
I remember having lunch one day at Tavern on the Green with our dad, and my brothers Dan and maybe Dave. We had just gone with Dad to visit his workplace and for some unusual reason, he had taken us with him – most likely to give our Mom a break – the twins were probably only about a year old at the time. We had a great time and the lunch was delicious. I remember meeting a man who seemed very nice. He was interviewing a baseball player who used to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The interviewer was a man named Howard Cosell.:) As we rode home, we drove past Flushing Meadows, where a sign told us it would be the future site of the World’s Fair in 1964. 1964 seemed so far off right then.
There were other trips – to the Circus where our grandfather played in the orchestra and arranged for three elephants to have our names chalked on their backs – a few months after our mother’s all-too-short life had ended in a car accident. There was dinner once at the Top of the Sixes; even the Copa Cabana once. Our father and stepmother once rented a bus to take us all to see the movie about George Harrison’s fund-raising concert for Bangla Desh, a generation before Feed the World or Farm Aid. In the front row of the section where we all sat were Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
That kind of thing just happened in New York. I’ve seen actors, actresses, musicians, newscasters, politicians and many others on the streets of New York and it never seemed unusual. You never felt like you were out in the open when you are surrounded by all those tall protective giants disguised as buildings. Unfortunately, John Lennon found out that this isn’t necessarily true.
There were a lot of trips to the City with friends from school – at a time when a ride on the Long Island Railroad could cost as little as five bucks. There were dates and dinners and fun.
New York represented the strength of the men in my life. My Dad always seemed invincible. He would laugh at thunderstorms, make fun of horror movies, drove like a bat out of hell. Whenever I was scared in the skyscrapers and their inhuman heights, he would just laugh. Laugh. He was fearless – or at least he was to me. My grandfather worked at a lot of places in the City, playing his flute and sax for many venues. John’s father worked there – so did John, not far from Grand Central one time and in the Essex House on Central Park South another. This New York was the future, the result of the ingenuity of a generation that fought the Second World War and won it, that engineered their way out of a debilitating Depression and believed the future was theirs and that there was nothing science and Progress couldn’t fix.
The last thing they would have expected was that some fanatically angry man, whose mind was still in the fifth century, would use those very same symbols of strength to break our hearts. Thank all that’s really holy, he didn’t break our spirit!
This weekend, the media outlets are remembering what happened ten years ago on Sunday. I’m not going to put any pictures here – there will be plenty to see and remember as the weekend progresses. There will be services to remember the dead and to pray for the living. And for peace.
I won’t pray for peace at any price, though. I can’t do that.
The thing is this. New York is my home town and it still hurts to see and remember (in even greater detail now) the cruelty visited upon innocent people because of “religion.” Because some lunatics decided to play with the lives of people whom they didn’t know, people who never did a thing to harm them. Innocent people. My heart still hurts when I think of it.
But there’s something that still rises up out of the ashes. The stories of all the people who risked their lives, many paying that ultimate price, trying to help others. The response of the world community to our suffering. The people who even now do everything they can to divorce the lunatic from his religion, faulting him, but not other adherents, for their beliefs – for how many Muslims died on 9/11 also? The stories of love, those last conversations that technology gave so many, a terrible gift no one would turn away.
John and I have lived in Merlin (about four hours away) since1980. Although there were tragedies not far from us that arose from 9/11, it was not there in your face like it was for our New York relatives. We went for a visit at the end of November, shortly after Thanksgiving, for two disparate reasons: Our kids had given us tickets to see The Producers for our 25th wedding anniversary and a dear priest friend of the family had died and was lying in state in the Cathedral in Rockville Centre. One nephew, then a New York City policeman, now a firefighter (they relaxed the residency rules after they lost so many), was working at Ground Zero. Two and a half months later, the fires were still burning – and they were still looking for remains. A number of our relatives had lost friends and neighbors. Months later, another nephew named his son after one of those friends. Our hearts broke for them.
There’s a part of the ride up to Manhattan through New Jersey, before you get to the George Washington Bridge. As you travel north, look to your right and you will see downtown Manhattan. On that trip, we had been talking and listening to CDs. When we passed what used to be the World Trade Center, we were silent.
We arranged to visit with my Dad Saturday afternoon. We had lunch at Tavern on the Green – it had recently reopened. Lunch was wonderful. Central park was wonderful, but as my Dad walked outside and looked around, he got a little catch in his voice as he said, “It’s just not the same, is it?”
No, it isn’t. It’s better. Because it’s home and always will be.
God be with you ’til we meet again.