One day this spring, the New York sky was so shockingly blue and cloud-free, I commented to some friends, "It's a 9/11 sky." They groaned and told me I had ruined a perfectly nice day. Still "too soon," I guess. But the fact is, that's my strongest memory of the day, how disarmingly perfect it had seemed.
Well, it's another day like that today.
which has stuck with me ever since I read it in college. It's an anecdote Sam Spade tells in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, about a man named Flitcraft who is nearly killed by a falling beam and then disappears on his family:
"The life he knew was a clean, orderly, sane, responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them."On 9-11-01, I biked my older daughter to school, voted in the primary, and arrived back at my building feeling like life was pretty good. Then a woman walking out the door told me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. I thought she meant a biplane.
I went upstairs and turned on the TV, and saw the second plane hit live.
I remember hearing the TV morning-show announcer, way out of her depth, blurt, "Well, there seems to be some kind of problem with air-traffic control..." Nobody knew how to process what they were seeing. I called my then-wife into the room and her first reaction was to worry the subways would stop running and prevent her from getting to work, where there now would be news-related imperatives.
We went ahead with the morning plan to walk our younger daughter to her nursery-school orientation, and people on the street -- just six miles from the Twin Towers -- seemed evenly divided between Those Who Knew and Those Who Didn't. The whole process at the school was surreal, with the adults trying to be all cheerful, the teachers, who'd been there since before It Happened, not really clued in about it.
Then on the way back a woman told me the Pentagon had been hit, and somehow, even though that was farther away, made it seem like things were more out of control. The following day was my anniversary -- it turned out the last one I would celebrate. 9-11 did make me reassess everything, like Flitcraft.
In an eerie bit of synchronicity, my friend Mark -- who also had a 9/12 anniversary, and is also now out of his marriage -- just posted this photo on Facebook of us [right] taken in Bryant Park in spring 2008, our first time getting together after my mother had died (suddenly) in October 2007. I have no recollection of this, but I guess we were concerned about falling branches.
Last night, driving back from the U.S. Open, I was initially shocked to see the "Towers of Light" again illuminating the heavens. I had actually forgotten, for a moment, that it was September 10, and that the next day would be the anniversary -- the reading of the names, the Facebook and blog postings of Where We Were That Day (last year I posted the Ryan Adams video [embedded above], which was shot a few days before 9-11, and took on a completely different meaning by the time it was edited together).
But that moment of forgetting and the shock of the remembrance had me wondering. As time passes, will 9-11 become a day like JFK's assassination, which only is recalled by those who experienced it? Will it become embedded as a national day of remembrance like Memorial or Labor Day, which still have some nods to their origins but mostly signify vacation?
In the intervening nine years, I have gotten divorced, started a new career, moved back and forth between Los Angeles and New York three times, had five jobs come to premature ends, but I have also settled down with a terrific loving woman, and remain devoted to my kids and creatively inspired.
In the end of the Flitcraft parable, Spade discovers the man has eventually moved from Seattle to Spokane, and has reengaged and set up a second life.
"He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."In retrospect, perhaps my attempt to classify a piercingly blue sky as a 9-11 sky is not as cynical as it might sound; I am trying to say, in a nutshell, that there once was a sky like this, and then the most horrible thing could still happen, but then it's over, and the sky is again blue.