Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another Anniversary

New York is a solemn place on September 11th, or at least it should be. Like the rest of America, the events of September 11th are pushed farther toward the back of our minds. This year I don’t believe has been any different.

I was on a trip to California when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred. One year later, I was working with a traveling poster sale and wasn’t able to attend the memorial at Ground Zero. I’ve made it a point to head down there every September 11th since.

I left work with roughly 15 minutes to spare, and the walk to Ground Zero is between five and 10 minutes. My goal was to walk up Church Street and stand across the street from Ground Zero, but Church Street was blocked off, and I had to head farther West to Greenwich Street. Walking up Greenwich Street, I came across a small group of bikers. They were members of different fire fighter motorcycle clubs, with motorcycle vests with names such as Fire Riders emblazoned on them.

I came upon another blockade on Greenwich Street but there was a path opened back to Church Street. I found a place to stand on Church Street next to an entrance way for victims’ families, but the police told everyone they couldn’t stand there. The police were having their special “community affairs” officers— who are basically regular cops with light blue shirts and caps—hustle people along.

I walked up to Broadway and stopped at the intersection of Broadway and Cedar Street, where people had gathered. I found myself a spot against the wall and out of the way. A man with a crudely drawn sign that read ‘Hussein Obama is a terrorist!’ stood on the corner. His sign had other slogans on it, but it was hard to read.

Another police officer in a light blue shirt cleared people away from the center of the sidewalk. This was the second year in a row that the police made it difficult for people to attend the memorial service at the World Trade Center site. Access to the areas right up to Ground Zero was good until last year. In 2006, on the fifth anniversary of the attacks, conspiracy theorists swarmed the area. The police clamped down the following year, though under the premise that construction at the World Trade Center sight made it necessary to use more of the surrounding area for victims’ relatives to gather and to stage the event. That may be partly true, but no doubt the police were out to make it tougher on conspiracy theorist protester and on civilians attending the memorial service. There was no visible presence of conspiracy theorists from where I was. I’m sure they were still there somewhere, but it was difficult to get around and see things and they may have been concentrated elsewhere.

Across the Street, in Liberty Plaza, a group of police officers from London, Toronto, and other places gathered with their flags and banners. It was hard to hear what was going on at Ground Zero, but these police officers dipped their flags during the first moment of silence.

Mennonites from Massachusetts were at the corner handing out CDs of Gospel music and a booklet titled ‘Love Your Enemies’. The young Mennonite women were dressed traditionally, like Amish women, with long dresses and white head coverings (a white head covering means they are married, I believe, a black head covering means they are single; though I don’t think that knowledge will do me much good either way). A young Mennonite man handed out booklets and CDs while the women mostly handed out CDs. On the curb, a large Department of Environmental Protection HazMat trailer truck was parked. A DEP worker took one of the man’s ‘Love Your Enemies’ booklets and cracked that, “I have a lot of enemies.”

Though it was hard to hear what was going on, the bell for the second moment of silence rang clearly. Amid the bustle of the city, there fell a brief and imperfect pause. I couldn’t help but grit my teeth at the chatty Italian tourist, the cop moving the metal barricade (again), or the doofus scrambling to take a photo.

Shortly after the readings began again after the second silence, I headed back to work. Throughout the rest of the city, business as usual churned along. Beyond the barricades surrounding Ground Zero, the sight of American flags at half staff was the only indication of today’s significance. Most had no time to honor the dead of September 11, 2001. I didn’t sacrifice more than a few minutes of my time standing on a street corner.

We are not behaving like a nation at war. We are behaving like a nation waiting for others to go to war for us, and those nations don’t survive.

1 comment:

hoodawg said...

Hear, hear, Matt. It's refreshing that we're enough of a pluralistic and open society that, given some distance from a tragedy, we can convert it to song, debate, literature, film, and myth. But past societies did such things as a way of saving the lessons for future generations. Our society seems hellbent on obscuring the lessons as a way of avoiding the pain. No one will be able to shield us from the pain of the next attack, though.