This post has nothing to do with hockey.*
On September eleventh, two thousand one, my fiance and I lived in Tuckahoe, NY. Our apartment was literally right next to the train station where commuters go into and out of NYC. That morning I, being out of work, was getting ready to go into The City (as locals refer to New York City) to attend a job fair at Madison Square Garden.
Later that afternoon we had a meeting at the Tarrytown House with, I believe, our florist. We were to be married in a few short weeks, on 10/6/01.
Due to budget constraints (my fiance was in graduate school and I was looking for a job) we did not have cable at that time.
We did, however, have the internet. And that's how we first found out that a small plane, according to the initial reports, had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. I'm pretty sure that my initial reaction to that news, referring to the pilot of that plane, was "What an asshole." Ignorance truly is bliss.
There are many stories about what transpired over the rest of that day, week, months and the ten years since then. Most are sad. Some are heroic. Still others are inspiring. Mine is, thankfully, fairly banal.
We knew people in The City. My fiance's father and stepfather were both there. Many college and even high school friends were there, too.
You have to understand that, as big and vast as NYC seems from afar - and even when you're in it at times - the lack of clarity and chaos during those first hours effectively shrunk New York City to Mayberry-size. If someone was in the city, and you weren't, the entire city was on fire and collapsing - or so it seemed. Nonetheless no one that we knew died on, or as a direct result of, 9/11. We're lucky.
They shut down the trains and, I believe, subways for a while. When we heard that the first train was going to run out of Grand Central stopping, among other places, at our station, we looked out our window and saw hundreds of people who had gathered at the station in an eerie silence. Waiting to see if their husband, wife, son, daughter, brother or sister would somehow, please God, be on that train. That was one of the moments I really felt afraid. It was so visceral, so real, at that moment.
Taking away modern personal communications (cell phones, land lines, email) and transportation drops NYC back a hundred years. At that point, it's just a mountain range on an island.
We eventually made our way over to the Tarrytown House for that meeting. On the way we were overflown by at least one formation of choppers. That was another moment where I felt scared. It was like being on the approach route to some forward operating base in a movie, except that it wasn't a movie.
A week or so later my buddies and I would get together in NYC for my bachelor party. I remember a lot of fun things about that night. I also remember the stink from the pit, the glow from the lights in the general direction of the site as they were still conducting around the clock search and rescue, and the feeling that the grime that was a normal part of breathing in NYC felt instead like sacred ashes that night.
Ironically, the firm I would eventually get a job with was located in the South Tower. Our firm holds the distinction of being the largest tenant of either building not to lose a single person on 9/11. The firm would relocate first to Hartford, CT and then to midtown Manhattan (where they were located when I was hired in February 2002) in two temporary stops. We would return to lower Manhattan (to the World Financial Center) by the end of 2002 - where we remain and will stay for the forseeable future.
Hearing the stories of my colleagues is chilling. There was the time when a woman in my department got a call from some 9/11 commission that had found, amidst the rubble that was carted away, her old building ID card and if she wanted to claim it she had to go to X location and present a current ID. She demurred, hung up and then, visibly shaken, told us all about the call. My first boss talked about getting out and onto the street on 9/11, and dodging refrigerator-size pieces of building as he was making his escape.
Even today those who were there can fall under the spell of it all and go very quiet and adopt that thousand yard stare on occasion. I don't pretend to relate to their memories, and, to be fair, they don't ostracize me for not having been there.
I was close enough, thank you very much, for my own comfort.
And yet there is a sort of a demarcation between the first and second standard deviations of those who were there and those who were not but were still close enough to be touched by it. And, for those of us in that second standard deviation, there's yet another demarcation between us and those of you in the third standard deviation - people who only experienced it via CNN. Which is not intended in the pejorative in any way.
It's just, even though the idea of the Nazi concentration camps terrifies and disgusts me, can I relate to the old Jewish lady who was actually IN Treblinka? Of course not. But I can't even relate to her cousin who was already Stateside when the war broke out, either.
And, lest I offend anyone, ask yourself this: would you really want to know, first hand, the terror those people felt running down the stairs in either of the towers? Desperately trying to get out. That primal "flight" instinct in overdrive, pushing you forward at the same time a voice in your rational mind is screaming "WHATTHEFUCKISGOINGON?!" Do you really want to have those memories, or wake up in the middle of the night after those nightmares? I don't.
In the months after 9/11 New Yorkers were different. They were at the same time more fatalistic and more compassionate. Certainly more patriotic. Let me put it this way: W was on hand for the World Series to throw out the first pitch, and he didn't receive a single Bronx cheer from the fans. I don't even think it was a concious thing on behalf of New Yorkers. They just....did it.
But now some of that has receded. And, where it has receded, it's been mostly replaced with an unslakable sense of entitlement. It's sad. And those New Yorkers don't see it. They're a subset - likely those in that second standard deviation where I live - who act like spoiled jerks most of the time and only wear their sensitive shirt once a year: on September eleventh. And I think they only do that so they can continue to fly that flag when it suits them. "Oh yeah, well fuck you, I'm a New Yorker. You know, nine eleven?"
If that's you, then you shame the memory of those who died, those who died trying to save others and you shame those who fight to protect you and the rest of us in this country.
But, for at least an equally large subset, life is more precious now. The sky is bluer, the stars are brighter. On balance, more people will hold a door open, or stand up on the subway to offer an older woman a seat than before. There's a temptation to call that outdated chivalry or even chauvenism when seen through a more jaded lens. I hope we would resist that temptation. Because I see that - and maybe because I want to, I'll admit - as a positive by-product of 9/11.
I don't know if America is better, or stronger, or smarter, or wiser, or kinder - if less innocent - than it was before those men drove those planes into those buildings and that field. How can anyone know that?
Yes, part of our society is using 9/11 as currency to pay for their own vices and that's too bad. But I think letting those people into the club is just part of the cost of freedom.
And that same freedom hopefully affords those who use 9/11 as an excuse simply to look up and see how blue the sky is, or how bright the moon and the stars are, with more opportunities to do so, and with more loved ones around them while they're looking.
God bless America. Land that I love.
*Editor's note: after re-reading this, it apparently has nothing to do with coherent form, either!