Formerly Ad Orientem

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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, September 09, 2003  

FDNY Piper, Ground Zero

"The trade-center towers could be the start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world." Ada Louise Huxtable, NYT architecture critic, 1966

Watched Ric Burns' film on the World Trade Center (a postscript to his New York documentary) and found the buildings' history, which I hadn't known, fascinating. But it was difficult watching: I do not like heights, and my palms were sweating through much of the three-hour program (especially during the section on the French tightrope walker). The scenes of 9/11, including footage not widely seen, were nightmarish.

That morning, I was home watching my son and daughter, then 4 and 2, who played, happily oblivious, as horrors unfolded on the living room TV. So Lileks strikes a chord:

I was nowhere near New York when it happened, of course. But you’d have to be unusually thick not to see that this was the start of something that would affect more than the lower portion of the island of Manhattan. I don’t know what compelled me to grab the videocam off the shelf and start shooting, but I’m glad I did, because what I caught captured something I needed to remember: the TV has the picture of the twin towers engulfed in smoke: my little 14 month old child is grinning with unbearable delight, holding out her Elmo phone. Hi! Hi! Hi! Jasper’s in the corner of the picture, on his back, paws up, whimpering; whatever I was giving off, he got. But Gnat was in Elmo-world, a happy little place in which she’d always be safe, and I’m wondering if her future will be all downhill from here.

At that point I thought the fires might go out. I thought the towers might be saved. Then they fell. And you knew that the future had just taken the wrong exit.

Angry? Almost two years later I’m still f*#king furious about it, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure what emotion these people want me to have. An appropriate amount of sadness mixed with an appropriate amount of shame mixed with a soupcon of perspective and a dram of self-hatred? Can you send me the precise recipe, please? Because from where I stand, I see the two forces I thought the left deplored: religious intolerance and fascism. Together at last! Swirled into one cone! If Kluxers had flown planes into the UN building, these people would be insisting that America was bubbling over with millions of Bubbanazis, and the failure of the networks to mount Second Anniversary specials would be proof that the media secretly embraced the White Power agenda.

Again, I’ll ask the question: when did I overdo it? January 14, 2002? August 23rd 2003, 11:34 AM? Was that the point at which we were supposed to pack it all away in a box and store it in the attic with the newspapers and Time magazines? I pass a house every day that still has a Wellstone! sign in the front window. Should I knock on their door, and ask why they have the sign up? They’re white, male, living in the land of opportunity. Stop grieving. Stop it!

Wellstone died almost a year ago - by accident. Three thousand people died by design that day. Only a fool couldn’t help noticing what it meant: they want us all dead. They want a world in which my daughter is a slave - and even though they’ll never get it, they will kill someone else’s daughter a half a continent away just to make their point.

Christopher Hitchens, meantime, calls for fewer flags and more grit: What is required is a steady, unostentatious stoicism, made up out of absolute, cold hatred and contempt for the aggressors, and complete determination that their defeat will be utter and shameful. This doesn't require drum rolls or bagpipes or banners. The French had a saying during the period when the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were lost to them: "Always think of it. Never speak of it."

The Emerald Society Pipes & Drums of the FDNY keeps an online photo album that includes images, like the one above, taken at Ground Zero. The Society also offers a fine selection of links to other fire- and police-department pipe bands.

Lane Core has put together a Remember 9/11 gallery that includes photos from last year's Flight 93 memorial service.


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