“A tranquil city of good laws, fine architecture, and clean streets is like a classroom of obedient dullards, or a field of gelded bulls - whereas a city of anarchy is a city of promise.”
-- Mark Helprin
My parents got divorced when I was eleven. A few years later, when life had settled down and everyone had sorted themselves out, I went to visit my stepfather for the first time. I'd been living for a time in the small Hawaiian town of Hilo, not just tiny but surrounded by vast expanses of nothing in the form of water. From there, I hopped on a small airplane to get to the international airport in Honolulu. I remember thinking that the city looked impressively big compared to Hilo.
Then, I boarded the long, long flight across the ocean, and in San Francisco I pondered that although Honolulu had been big, this town was bigger still. Then, the flight across the country...
In the haze of an east-coast dawn, I had my first view of the skyline of New York city. It rose like a stark revelation, backlit by the sun. THIS is a CITY, I thought to myself, seeing the spire of the Empire State Building and the twin fingers of the World Trade Center pointing to the sky. I'd never seen a city quite like it, and to this day, I never have.
When the towers fell, my stepfather was working at his business two blocks away. He described the event as entirely surreal. There was a rain of paper, he said, like a tickertape parade -- but how could it be, so high in the sky? My mother was working at Unicef in Midtown. The story of how they each got back home that day is its own miracle, considering that my stepfather's train stop was the World Trade Center's. They survived to tell the tale of bravery and angst and confusion as New York lost a bit of its heart.
Today, I mourn the city that was, remember how blessed I am for the family that I didn't lose, and celebrate the city that still is. Somehow, New Yorkers are tough enough to soldier through. I think we've all grown, trying to comprehend how forces in the world (and we are not guiltless either) created such an atmosphere that this act of violence was possible.
Here's to this day, when America reflects upon our responsibility -- to ourselves, and to the world.