(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)
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NOW, more than two full weeks since the unbelievable attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, my feelings are still those of shock, sadness and anger. Over these past two weeks, I have attempted to write several times but was not able to get my thoughts out. My thoughts were two chaotic and emotional. They ran into each other and overlapped each other. The attack on the World Trade Center feels personal to me. There are several reasons for this.
I have lived almost my entire thirty-eight years in New Jersey. The few times that I have lived out of the state, I have still retained my New Jersey identity and have always preferred to be here (as strange as that may sound to some). In 1982, I attended a college in Minneapolis, Minnesota for about five months. As people stood in line to register and began to make conversation, it was soon discovered that I was from New Jersey. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by lots of kids from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and other Midwest states. Immediately the interrogation began. Question 1: “What do you drink for lunch?” Answer: “Soda.” Response: “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! It’s POP!” POP? That’s a name for my grandfather! Question 2: “What do you pack your lunch in?” Answer: “A paper bag.” Response: “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! It’s a paper SACK!” A SACK? That’s for potatoes! Question 3: “How do you say DOG?” Answer (in my best NJ accent): “DAWG!” Go ahead, laugh if you want. I think your winters are too cold and it has damaged your brains. I’m going home! I also lived in Easton, Pennsylvania for a few years. But I worked in Jersey and most of my friends lived there. So it felt like I still lived in Jersey. I also spent a few brief months in Nowhere-ville, West Virginia. That is a story for another day.
When you live most of your life in northern New Jersey, New York City just feels like part of your “neighborhood.” I live about 70 miles (driving miles) west of Manhattan. Without traffic, I can make it to the city in just over an hour. (No comments on my speeding addiction right now. Thank you.) It is common to see the New York skyline from many points in eastern New Jersey. Of course, the Twin Towers were the first and most noticeable objects of that skyline.
Now all has changed.
I FEEL robbed. Something personal has been taken from me. No, I cannot lay claim to a tragic loss of a loved one who was in one of those buildings, or a brother who was a New York City fireman lost while trying to save others, or even a close friend who was injured on September 11. However, I still feel a sense of loss. The feeling of loss was immediate when I heard the news. Do we all not feel that loss, those of us who are American? Tell me my Hawaiian and Alaskan brothers so far from lower Manhattan. Did you not feel some kind of loss as soon as you heard the news? Furthermore, do we not all feel the loss, those of us who are human and decent? Yes, we do.
For me personally, it is not only the loss of a spectacular and familiar skyline. I have certain attachments to New York City, some of which go back many years. I love New York!
Sometimes when I go to New York I have very strong remembrances of my dear grandfather. I remember going to see a rodeo at Madison Square Garden when I was young. For a souvenir I got one of those little flashlights on a plastic cord that you could swing around over your head when the lights went down in the Garden. (I think they are outlawed now because too many little sisters got beaned in the head by overly excited older brothers at rodeos.) I also remember my grandfather taking us to see the New York Rangers play hockey at the Garden. One time I brought a friend and our seats were a few rows away from Pop, just far enough for him to be unable to distinguish our 14-year-old voices screaming out the “F-word” (of which we were very fond at that age) from the roar of the rest of the fans.
New York City was also instrumental in developing a rather humanitarian and compassionate side of my character. At least 10 to 12 years ago, while going through my first divorce and raising J, S and T on my own, I was made aware of the terrible situation of the homeless in New York. A friend of mine from church was working at an inner city mission. He took me to Manhattan to help him distribute clothing on the streets at the Port Authority building. I was speechless at the condition of such poor people. I was somewhat ashamed for complaining at all about my own condition. I returned home that day with a pounding headache and a changed heart. After that day, my friend and I were able to mobilize our small church of about 40 people to send groups of people every Saturday through the winter to bring clothing to the homeless. That was not good enough. We also began bringing bagged lunches to these people. A group from the church would meet on Friday nights, sort through donated clothing and make sandwiches assembly line fashion. That was not good enough. It was cold and people needed hot food. So we made homemade chicken noodle soup (which my grandfather taught me to make), packed the soup in individual cups with spoons and packets of crackers taped to the sides, and distributed those too. That was not good enough! These were humans we were dealing with. There should be a certain amount of dignity that goes along with being human and with helping a fellow human. We gathered Band-Aids, Chapstick, combs, and other personal items. We put them into plastic bags and called them “dignity packs.” What a difference that made to someone who was used to sleeping on a piece of cardboard on a dirty New York sidewalk while many people walked by without even noticing, without caring to ask their names. Sometimes the only attention they got was to be spit on, cursed at or shoved out of the way. Sure, I have some moral quandaries that I struggle with over the issue of helping the poor, especially those who are able to work but are just too lazy. “If a man does not work, neither let him eat.” But I personally met many that for one reason or another were in a position where they could not help themselves very much, especially the elderly. My experience among these homeless people changed my heart in a permanent way. It was all done in the context of a city that is huge and often cold. Still, I love that city.
OVER the past several months I have made some good friends in New York City. I have spent time there in business meetings, site seeing, and visiting with friends. Since July, I have spent nearly every Sunday in New York City. I was there on Sunday, September 9, just two days before the Towers crashed to the ground. A mere two weeks before that, a close friend and I had dinner at Windows on the World, the restaurant that was on the 107th floor of Tower One. Neither of us could believe the news on September 11. Not only Manhattan, but also the Twin Towers themselves had come to have special significance to us. When we drove to the city on Sunday, September 16, the absence of the Towers was glaring. We had been robbed, and worse.
I WAS almost to work on September 11, driving on Route 78 in New Jersey when I happened to turn on the radio and caught the tail end of a news report saying something about the World Trade Center. I thought, “Gee, I wonder what’s going on.” I changed stations and heard that a second plane had just crashed into the buildings. Instantly the faces of waiters and waitresses who had served us at the restaurant came flashing into my mind. Two minutes later I came over the mountain near exit 33 and I could see the smoke rising from over 20 miles away! I could not believe it! It was not real! It had to be a mistake! But when I entered the office there was nothing but somber faces. Someone had a radio on and all were listening in disbelief. Then Tower Two fell. Something happened at the Pentagon but no one was quite sure what. Tower One fell.
Most of us left work early that day. We went home to talk with our children and watch the news. We could not take our eyes off of the images on our television screens. It was too awful, too huge, too unexpected. We waited for the President to speak that night while our perceptions of our country shifted. Are we as strong as we always assumed? Are we truly the people that we always told ourselves that we were? Within minutes the heroism began to shine through the smoke and rubble of destroyed buildings and airplanes. As the flags unfurled, a national consciousness was awakening. Many petty differences crumbled along with those buildings. Our courage and our patriotism rose. Unity was strengthened and we were comforted when our leader spoke that evening. Now we are awake. Now we are determined. Now we are even more American than we were when we retired for the evening on September 10. Now may God guide us in making our country and the world safer.
I PERSONALLY hold the sentiment that I have heard expressed by many of my fellow Americans. I will continue to live as a free man. I will continue to pursue my goals and dreams. I will not let some low-life, evil-hearted bastard cause me to give up my freedom out of fear. Certainly I will be more careful for my safety and the safety of those that I love. But I will walk on. I will support the efforts to rid the world of terrorism that this country will make. I will teach my children about the world that we live in. I will teach them to let the stark realities of the cruelties of this world drive them to become better people. Just as murder and heinous brutalities are realities, so are courage, excellence, kindness, goodness, compassion, and success. I will teach them to pursue these things with just as much devotion and seriousness as the fanatics who crashed those planes and killed our people. I will inspire them to love with all of their hearts, mindful that such love often leaves one’s heart open and vulnerable to attack by those who have no heart. I will instill in them the belief that in the end, whether it has been betrayed, murdered or simply ignored, love will always rise again and will endure forever. “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
SO WHAT are my plans for this weekend? You got it! I am going to New York! In fact, I will be in New York City before most of you even read this article tonight! I just cannot stay away!