Once upon a time, New York City was a far-off place, 1,746 road miles from Austin, Texas, to be precise. On September 11, 2001, the city moved a little closer to Austin, just like 60 years previously when Pearl Harbor moved significantly closer than 2,500 miles from the western edge of mainland U.S.A.
Both September 11 and December 7 reminded Americans — spread out from shore to shore and beyond — that we are all a part of this neighborhood called America. Such events unify us, if not geographically, certainly emotionally. As the towers crumbled repeatedly on the national news, the 300 million Americans who were not residents of New York watched in a state of shock that will never be forgotten. It was an assault to our national psyche and we had to wonder. . . what had we done to deserve this?
As for me, I experienced the vaguest whiff of survivor’s guilt. I had visited NYC for the first time just 3 months earlier, during the week of June 11. On my list of “must visits” was the World Trade Center. We arrived in the early summer morning and waited in line to take the elevator to the rooftop. The elevator whisked us up 110 stories faster than I normally drive, and upon arrival, we took pictures and marveled about seeing almost to “forever.” Afterwards, we ate lunch in the mall below the plaza which was the largest shopping mall in lower Manhattan. The six basements housed two subway stations and a PATH train stop. As I recalled the trip, I realized how easy it could have been for us to wait until September to take the trip and be standing on the “top of the world” when the building collapsed under us.
I couldn’t even imagine the guilt of all those survivors who missed work that day or those who let their loved ones go to work as if it were just another work day. As great as our collective grief as a nation, I know that nothing could equal that of those who lost a loved one, friend, or co-worker. But time went by and I gradually accepted that things happen when they are going to happen and I just felt fortunate that I didn’t know anyone in New York or anyone who even knew anyone who had perished on that day.
But in 2005, my younger son moved to New York where he’s been living, voting, and working, and my thoughts about the city are different than before. I have visited on several occasions and seen the city through the eyes of a resident, meeting my son’s co-tenants and the young concierge staff who people his apartment building. He works in one of the largest office buildings in the city but the security folks know him by sight as he goes to his job every day on the 24th floor. His co-workers are young and excited about their careers and life in the big city. Several of his friends from high school and college have also decided to make their fortunes there. Surprisingly, I am connected to a significant community of folks by way of my son. New York is now populated with names and faces and memories of good times with them.
Saturday morning, September 11, 2010, my son called while he was observing a ceremony at the British Memorial Garden at Hanover Square, which is a merely steps from the front door of his building. He was describing the 9-11 ceremony as I caught the whine of bagpipes and the insistent beat of drummers in the background. This was the garden that the British had built with the motto, “Reflect, Remember, Rebuild. . . “, to honor the 67 British subjects lost in the towers and celebrate the historic friendship of the United States and United Kingdom.
After we hung up, I contemplated — as I often do — the fact that New York would always be a target for people who would seek to harm us, and that frightened me, Undoubtedly, it frightens many parents all over this vast nation who have checked their misgivings and waved cheerfully as their children have journeyed off to seek fame and fortune in the city that never sleeps. And as I often do, I realize that New York City is no longer that city located 1,726 miles away. It is a place where a part of me now lives . . . no farther than a heartbeat.