Monday, September 11, 2006

I And Not My Wound Endure

The thing that one is struck by when visiting Ground Zero is not so much the absence of the buildings as it is the presence of space. This is lower Manhattan. There isn't a square foot here that doesn't have built upon it some tower of glass and steel. So to have this much open space in the middle of everything is eerie, unnerving.

I first visited the site last week. A friend recommended that I spend some time there alone before experiencing it amidst the tumult of bodies that would inevitably decent for the memorial service today.

I was reminded of the Scriptures when Christ violently expelled the money-changers from the temple. Everywhere I turned, vendors sold cheap trinkets and mementos. Visitors stood, posing for pictures in front of the remnants of carnage with idiot grins on their faces like they were hamming it up with Mickey Mouse.

Very few posed for such pictures this morning. Though the usual cacophonous din of voices filled the air at 8:45, they lapsed into silence at 8:46 when the bells of the city’s churches began to toll, marking the time the first plane plunged into the North Tower. Commuters and sightseers stopped what they were doing and stood, rooted, listening as the names of the thousands of dead began to be read out by their family members, streaming into the core of the sunken pit in order to pay their respects. All we could do was look on through fences and cry.

I could not help but think of a graduation ceremony as the names were read. Name after name after name. For hours it went on, with only brief interruptions.

9:03. Another moment of silence to signify the exact moment when the South Tower was struck by the second plane. The names continued.

9:59. Exactly five years ago this minute the South Tower imploded and fell in on itself. The names continued.

I began to walk, circling the massive site and trying to take it all in. The day was bright and nearly cloudless, just like that day five years ago. Monolithic flags snapped in the breeze or rippled on the sides of buildings. Uniforms of NYPD and FDNY officers were everywhere. Conspiracy theorists peddled their DVDs and pamphlets, marching in the street. Buddhist monks chanted for peace. A man was shouting that the end of the world is at hand, sinners beware. Jetliners, safe and sound on their way somewhere, roared overhead, making us all uneasy. Tourists splashed their hotel maps with tears. Mourners inserted flowers and taped photos of their loves ones to the fences, only to fall to the sidewalk in anguish. The names continued.

10:29. A final moment of silence for the collapse of the North Tower. The names continued.

Somewhere around noon, the names ended and a chorus of trumpets erupted in Taps. In eerie stillness for a gathering this large, the crowd dispersed, slowing seeking out the subways that would return them to work, to sightseeing, to a home or office of contemplation.

As usual, after class tonight around 10 p.m., someone suggested stopping at a pub for a pint or two. Usually I’d take them up on the offer, but not this night. I wanted to return to Ground Zero where, for tonight only, the “Tribute in Lights” had been resurrected.

I didn’t go alone. No one had any pints. Ten or so of us gathered at the World Trade Center, gapped at the twin, blinding shafts of light so high they seems to pierce heaven itself, and traded stories about where we found ourselves on that horrible day.

It seemed fitting that my day began and ended at the same place, awash in the same emotions.

Five years ago tonight, I stood before the Pentagon and watched it belch flames into the night’s sky. Tonight, I stood before lights of a very different kind.

It was a day of pain, it was a day of hope, it was a day in which I felt I was that much closer to realizing that, as Mayor Bloomburg said this morning, it was I and not my wound that would endure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are we going to have to hear the names every year forever? It is so depressing to have to listen to that every year all morning, on every channel. Plus they play the whole thing weeks before and after. Why is it have to hear about this when so much other horrible things have happened in the past and after 9-11.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Thanks Brandon. You are right about the absence of space. It takes up about 1/4 of the East-West space of lower Manhattan.

I didn't know that the lights were for only last night. I'm glad I took a pic or two.

God Bless.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous nate said...

Are we going to have to hear the names every year forever? It is so depressing to have to listen to that every year all morning, on every channel.

Yeah! I mean, who wants to be depressed.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Reacher said...

I was in the WTC towers in 2000. Returned to the site in 2002 and 2004. In '02 we took the subway down to the City Hall area from Midtown. Coming out on to the street we were a little turned around and searching for our bearings. We knew we had arrived in the vicinity: the sound stopped. It was as though we had passed through a veil and were in sacred space. People spoke in hushed tones, cabs did not honk, and everyone looked everyone else in the eye. The makeshift memorials were still fresh. A flower for a mom. A catcher's mitt from a son to a dad. There was no way you made it through that part of the city without shedding tears. The scene was awe-inspiring. The destruction was unimaginable, but the holy respect was staggering.

When we returned a couple of years later, I had a hard time taking it. I think the subway was back up and running, cars honked, there was stuff for sale, and people had gone back to their guarded existence.

It is quite a commentary on us that we can experience something that tragic on such a grand scale, and within a few years go back to business as usual.

What will it take for us to live and love honestly and without restraint?

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that. I have really become addicted to reading your blogs. You could be a writer for the New Yorker...


3:56 PM  
Anonymous Daria said...

I'm glad you got to be there yesterday, Brandon.

I remember the grief I felt that day for all those who lost loved ones...even as I breathed relief to know all my DC loved ones were safe. (Life is unfair--the good and the bad.)

I remember being relieved for you: that you were safe, and that you would still be able to get out of the Navy.

Being in DC that day was the only time I have experienced something that makes me understand a bit about what our grandparents must have felt during WWII--that is, what it may have been like for those close to a coast, who had to fear attacks.

And Reacher, I appreciate your comment. Trying to get home that evening, with all the buses that usally went throught the Pentagon being was the only time I saw people in DC actually treat each other as humans: instead of the usual ignoring the person crammed into the subway or bus *right next to you*, everyone was talking with each other. Driving right past the flaming Pentagon building, those of us sitting in the bus were suddenly a community: this sorrow was all of ours, such frailty applied to all of us, etc.

And how sad that it was solely because of the tragedy that people broke through the veil, as it were, and suddenly saw each other...we ought not let that happen. We ought to look people in the eye, speak a kind word, give a smile, *be real*, in the everyday realm.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous deon said...


Thankyou for sharing such a touching moment with all of us. I feel as though I wasa there through your description. I work at the Pentagon, and each day that I am here, I think of what it must have been like to be in this building on that sad day. I have met many people that have told me all about how they felt during that terrible time. I Thank God that I was not here on that dreadful day. My heart was very Heavy during that time 5 years ago, and I was amongst millions that were shocked, and devasted by the horrible events that took place on that day. Stay safe Brandon, and God Bless you.

6:45 AM  
Anonymous Calvin said...

Thank you Brandon for sharing your most poignantand personal reflections on that day five years later. I still have tears whenever I remember the events of the day and the people of the day. May we all find grace and healing in the One who made us.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Robin said...


thank you for sharing. I still cannot get over that day. I wonder sometimes how long it will take. I sat that afternoon in the tv lounge at UCCS and sobbed, heedless of my fellow students who stared and remarked.

Ironically, since I know this probably had the opposite affect on you and millions of others, this was the last straw in my loss of faith. And yeah, I do miss it. I miss the "certainty" of being protected by a higher power. I miss the community of those who would boost me up and help me try to find the faith I once had.

But it's gone. Forever. Irretrievably. That day made me certain that the conclusions I was coming to were correct. Man made God in his image. Man uses God to justify his heinous behavior. Man uses religion to supress the "other", to repress the less fortunate, to maintain the status quo. And we fool humans hope for a relief from the pain and heartache of this life, by believing there will be another where we can "experience true happiness."

I respect those, like you Brandon, and a few other of my friends, who can choose to live a life of ethics and integrity. Who can care about their fellow humans and this planet we share. I try to do so also, I just do it without attributing my ability to do so to a god.

And ultimately, I don't think it matters whether one lives such a life because of, or in spite of, god(s). I just wish more would do so.

3:08 PM  

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