After a very long day I headed out at around midnight with my roommate to check out what was going on at Ground Zero, which is only a couple of blocks from my house. It was a circus of humanity, a riot of emotions and colors and noise that looked like it was going to go on all night.
As early as the evening of September 10 the area around Ground Zero was already packed with people. Large mesh fences separate most of the onlookers from the pit, with the exception of the families of the victims who were allowed on-site for the official commemoration during the day of September 11. People press their faces against the fence, trying to see… something. Instead all they see is a construction lot.
On the morning of September 11, I was watching NY1, the local all-hours news TV station. Mayor Bloomberg called for a moment of silence a little before 9am when the first plane hit five years ago. Soon after, the reading of the names of the victims began, recited by the spouses and partners of those lost. The wounds of September 11 are still so raw for them — and for many of the rest of us — some barely able to recite the name of their loved one.
In the evening I heard my friend Joshua sing as lead baritone that evening at Grace Church in the East Village, one of the oldest churches in the city. The lovely choral music and peaceful atmosphere of the church helped calm and center me.
Around midnight, I grabbed my camera and my roommate Paul and headed for the WTC site. Security was ubiquitous but unobtrusive. Traffic was at a crawl, but there was very little honking as is typical of New York driving. Patriotic music blared from somewhere as a lone drummer tapped out a military beat.
By now, the fences around the site were festooned with various signs and photos and flowers that people had brought. Large images of people on September 11, 2001 were hung all around the fences. It was like looking at yourself from five years ago, remembering how you felt, the raw smell of smoke, the feel of the white powder all over you.
Near the site, a small group was reciting — not names this time — but
entire short biographies of the victims. What their dreams were, their
passions, their quirks. A small crowd listened attentively, some
weeping others looking prayerful.
The newly inaugurated firefighter’s memorial wall was surrounded by
people with paper and pencils, waiting to make a rubbing of a face or
an engine or a name embossed on it. Not far away, a group of merchants
were selling little clear plastic cubes with tiny WTC replicas within
them, lit from below by a blue light. Incredibly tacky. My roommate
thought it was disgusting, but for me that’s just part of the American
As Paul and I walked home, I wondered if we were ever going to feel "normal" on this day. I wondered if I even wanted to.
The crowds were thinning now. But the bars and pizza joints were still packed with people who weren’t ready to leave.