It looked like something Steven Spielberg or George Lucas whipped up in their special effects studio. Hijacked planes, balls of flame, debris (and people) falling from burning buildings, skyscrapers being leveled to dust, pedestrians scrambling for cover. Many of us have paid money to be “entertained” by such “lifelike” scenes. Towering Inferno and Poseidon Adventure were startling when they were first released on the big screen nearly three decades ago. However, the sophisticated technology employed in the more recent Deep Impact and Independence Day make those older films seem quite benign. Box offices across the world collected millions as audiences watched major cities burn in “sensurround sound.” Imagine that.
I am a true-blue-born-and-bred New Yorker and D.C. has been home for seven years now. It is Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001– and I am trying to absorb the extent of the devastation that has forever left its cruel mark on countless lives. Twenty four hours ago, my world changed. I’ve seen “this kind of world” in far away places, but “this kind of world” is no longer far away.
I feel perplexed. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel sick. I feel dazed. I feel numb. I feel attacked. These are MY cities! These are the places where most of my family and friends work and live. These cities are the very core of democracy and capitalism; they directly impact the politics and finances of the entire world. These are the two cities I proudly show off to guests. We have come to love Washington and have become increasingly patriotic as we bring out-of-towners to the museums and monuments along the Mall. In New York, we have precious memories of Radio City, Rockefeller Center, Broadway musicals, South Street Seaport and Little Italy. We have stood on the observation deck of the north tower many times with family and friends. Frank and I dined at Windows on the World during our engagement. We laughed hard when the bill came because of the thick fog that eliminated the view. I’ve sat in the River Café under the Brooklyn Bridge a few times, and I always gape at the beauty of the Manhattan skyline, which is powerfully punctuated by the majestic twin towers. I recently brought a group of young women from church to their first “field trip” to The Big Apple. I was delighted by their awe and childlike wonder as we walked through the city that never sleeps. We stayed at the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel that weekend. The television is transmitting footage of my two cities burning–but it’s not a movie. And it doesn’t end in two hours.
I wanted it to be a bad dream; an apocalyptic nightmare, but when I awoke today, my memory played back the horrific sights that left me weeping quietly for hours yesterday morning as I sat alone in the house and witnessed the darkness that overtook the bright blue skies over the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. I am unable to press a delete button and I am convinced the sights and sounds of twenty four hours ago will remain with me forever. And that’s not an entirely bad thing. I need to remember. I must not forget. I try to recall what I was thinking when the only cities on fire were far across the ocean.