Tuesday, June 15, 2021
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Sept. 11 still leaves its black mark three years later

“I miss you.”

They’re all saying it – some fighting tears, their voices cracking, broadcasting the raw emotion that is rarely seen on television news.

Others are more composed. They add “god bless,” and “never forget you,” with the congeniality of politicians.

But for the family members reading the names of some 3,000 victims at Ground Zero, words do not seem to suffice.

Just as they have not captured the pain, the loss, the devastation of Sept. 11, they have never been arranged in an order that gives a clear explanation for that day – not from Tom Kean’s Commission, not from an over-extended war on terror.

So family members, as well as those who weren’t directly affected, rely on that gut-originating sense of missing to try to explain, or rather, to understand, the gaping holes – at Ground Zero, and in their lives.

Likewise, I have no explanation for my tears. I didn’t lose anyone on Sept. 11, and I’ve never lived in New York City.

But I have become closer to it. On clear summer nights in Hoboken, we stare at the Manhattan skyline for hours from the PATH pier.

We’re awed by the blue lights of the George Washington Bridge in the north, the late-night white lights of office buildings, the rainbow tower of the Empire State Building and the flow of headlights and tail lights on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The southernmost part of our panorama is downtown Manhattan. It’s less spectacular – no huge buildings, no bright lights.

But I wonder how I’d feel if the blinking red signal of the World Trade antenna had once been a part of my picture.

The closest thing to an explanation I’ve come up with came from a little girl.

She was a quick clip on NBC’s coverage of the third anniversary memorial reading of victims’ names.

She was standing by a reflecting pool that was almost filled with roses at the bare bottom of Ground Zero.

Only her mother stood next to her, black sunglasses hiding the mascara washing off her eyes.

Overflowing with roses, the reflecting pool spilled tears over its edges, crying with scores of others grieving around the pair.

But the girl tapped her feet, pointed and stared at the roses, as any fidgety child would.

Her mind was probably fixated on getting her hands on the pretty pillows of pink, yellow and purple.

She couldn’t have been more than three years old.

That means she’s probably never met her father, the man her mother has obviously been mourning over even before she was born.

While the rubble on the floor of Ground Zero is now only rocks in a sandbox to the little girl – rather than the Athenian spolia pit the rest of the country sees it as – I wonder how she’ll feel in 10 years as a teenager without a father.

She’ll start asking about him – what was he like, what did he do?

Then she’ll get into the Hard Question – WHY did he die that day?

Like us, she’ll probably have no explanation. But she, too, will come to know that feeling of Missing, just like I’ve come to know it three years later.

This vague void is the only concrete feeling I have about Sept. 11. I would never condone the actions of the terrorists, but I feel a good percentage of Americans don’t understand the desperate economic and sociopolitical situations in the Middle East that ultimately breed a militant ideology.

Americans are definitely not shining examples of morality or prudence.

But I wonder just how many lives were reformed or put into perspective that day.

Judging by the images on this third anniversary broadcast – the mother holding the framed picture of her late son, the widow with the black bow crying into the suit jacket of Gov. James E. McGreevey – it’s clear that life in America is changed forever.

The ‘Empty Sky’ Memorial in Liberty State Park that was dedicated Sept. 10 is a testimony to that.

It tries to fill the void left by the towers, but like most other attempted explanations, it doesn’t.

It simply reinforces the sense of missing left in the wake of Sept. 11, serving as a reflecting point for all affected passersby.


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