Land of the living

Today was one of those gorgeous September days when New York City sparkles. Sunny, blue skies, crisp air—not too cold, but no longer hot and humid.

This same date, eleven years ago, was just such a day, full of promise. It was shattered by the horror of a terrorist attack that destroyed two iconic buildings and thousands of lives. I remember gathering around the television in someone’s office, first thinking a tragic accident had occurred, until the second plane went into the second tower, and we knew it was no accident. Phone service was so jammed it took a long time to get through to Cherisse and my sister, who were working on a job at the Fogg Museum, at Harvard, worried because my office was across the street from a possible target—the majestic commuter hub, Grand Central Terminal. Eventually I joined the exodus heading uptown. On Fifth Avenue, people filled the street making their way steadily and solemnly, leaving behind a smoke-filled sky.

In the days and weeks after, first a line of police cars blocked the big glass doors of Grand Central, replaced eventually with permanent cement barricades. Soldiers with machine guns stood in strategic locations, adding to the sense that we had entered a war zone. A few bomb scares caused building evacuations. And boards plastered with the faces of the missing appeared around the city. The city was in mourning and on edge. Lucy Kaplansky wrote one of the most beautiful—and truest—songs about the attack called “Land of the Living.”

Facebook is filled today with remembrances, and people spoke quietly about where they were and what they saw. Anyone in New York that day has an understanding, an experience others can sympathize with but cannot share. It is one more thread that binds me to this city.

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