The Numbing of September 11 Part 2
© PJ Hayward. New York 2008
First Published by Hold On Publishing Co. New York 2009
Honestly I don’t remember if my office was open or if I even went to work the couple of days following the 9/11 attacks. I draw a blank trying to think exactly when my regular daily grind actually resumed. My sister has tried to convince me I was suffering from shock. I don’t know, maybe I was.
Still, walking to the subway that first day back, there were makeshift memorials everywhere. Hundreds of candles burned along all the sidewalks – hastily scribbled prayers and notes propped up along side them. Store windows displayed crosses and religious symbols of every kind, along with more makeshift signs saying “Pray for Us” and “God Help Us”.
Any New York City subway is normally crammed with people, stoically used to being stuffed like sardines inside hot trains which are always being delayed. Often some argument between two stuffees will escalate into a full blown fight. You get used to it – it’s just part of the daily routine. Now, for weeks on end people had just stood gazing into space. Those lucky enough to have seats sat like zombies, their faces blank and expressionless. There was no longer any noise – only stony silence. There were no walkmen being played, no conversation – not even any fights. There was nothing. People got onto the train and got off of the train – nothing more.
Grand Central Station, once the lively bastion of crisp executives, shapely fashion plates clicking along in spike heels, glaring lights and loud announcements, had become a war zone. All through Grand Central, patrols of National Guard kept vigilant watch. Police in full riot gear carrying assault rifles, patrolled with their huge dogs. How could this be? Right here in my home? Was I in Beirut or some war torn city? Outside Grand Central the streets were blocked in every direction with police and military vehicles, roadblocks and more National Guard and Riot Police.
As I walked the familiar 10 blocks to my job, I noticed more of the makeshift memorials lining all the city sidewalks. In the weeks and months to come, these memorials became ever increasing endless halls of desperate notes and photos. As high as people could reach on every building wall and power pole, every construction wall and every lamp post, photos of loved ones were plastered with the words “Have you seen this man”, “Have you seen this woman?” Notes and signs saying “Joe – call me – I am waiting”, “Mary – we love you – if you see this call home.”
One block from my Fifth Avenue office stood St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As soon as firefighters and police officers started being pulled from the 9/11 wreckage, their funerals began there and with the funerals, the playing of the bagpipes.
I don’t know why exactly, but there is a tradition that the pipers stand in a circle not directly in front of the church – but about a block away. So they stood below my office window. The funerals went on daily, day after day after day – and they continued for months. It was so emotionally wrenching I could barely handle it.
Finally one day I gathered the courage to look out the window at the men gathered in the circle beneath me. They were dressed in their beautiful tartans or colors – I’m not sure what you call them. The men were hugging each other and crying wretchedly. It suddenly dawned on me that many or maybe all of these men, were having to play again and again at ceaseless funerals for their fallen brothers. Where did they find the strength?
Seeing the pain on the faces of those men known for might and bravery, I went into the bathroom and just had some kind of nervous breakdown. I fell to pieces for all the innocent people lost; all the children who will never know their father or mother; all the loving parents who will never again feel the arms of their children around them; the lovers who will never again be reached for in the night by their soul mates, their hearts, their loves… I thought about the futility of war and the pointless greed and vanity that causes men to wage it.
The horrors of the aftermath of 9/11 seemed to go on and on. The silent Ghost Town remained for a long time. The stench in the air made it impossible for asthmatics to breathe. People who were finally allowed to go back to work in the areas surrounding the Trade Center, were re-traumatized daily as they wove their way through the reeking rubble to get to their jobs.
The endless halls of photos and pleading notes remained until wind, rain or snow washed them away. Not even the City sanitation workers had the heart to remove them until they just melted away.
This experience made me wonder how people in Europe coped during the devastating bombings of World War II, when entire cities were obliterated. Where do human beings find the strength to go on with daily life when all around them madness reigns?
I guess when it all comes down – we are like the little ants whose hill has been destroyed by boys playing ball. Somehow the ants dig themselves out from the mayhem and begin to restore order – rebuilding anew until they are whole again. That is, until the next day of horror comes.
Late one evening I watch a breaking news bulletin on TV. Cameras pan a scene of lush palm trees swaying silently in the dark night, with a twinkling city in the background. Suddenly the cracking thunder of fireworks burst through the silence. A reporter announces not fireworks, but the beginning of President George Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign.
In disbelief and resignation I call my sister. Though many miles apart we cry together softly, knowing what this means; the annihilation of thousands more innocent “expendable” people in order to steal Iraqi oil.
Some people believe it was a conspiracy that caused thousands of lives to be lost in 9/11 – a conspiracy concocted to justify our invasion of Iraq.
What do you think?
4 thoughts on “THE NUMBING OF SEPTEMBER 11 PART 2”
Beautifully written it holds ones attention
Thank you again A! If you have any opinions about any of these posts – agreements, disagreements, alternate views – I would love to see your thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to come and read our posts and I especially appreciate you taking the time to comment. Thank you.
I never experienced this tragedy first hand but I was traumatized nevertheless. Your description very vividly made it come alive for me. You captured the horror of that situation. May God prevent another like it.
Yes Rose, for any one of us who lived here, no matter where in the boroughs, that experience was painfully visible on every corner and of course, in the open sky where that black smoke kept burning for months. As you said, may God prevent another situation like that. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This must be what it was like for all those countries in Europe (and England) that experienced far worse than this all throughout WW 2 – and I guess WW 1 also’. Can you imagine how they must have had the most phenomenal strength to live through that daily… Yes, we have to pray for peace throughout the world, because already people have forgotten the lessons we hopefully learned from all those past wars.