Remember, that morning no one had a clue how many more assaults were coming against the United States. For Jonathan and I, the infrastructure of our entire lives suddenly fell apart. Everything that we took for granted as strong and enduring has turned out to be fragile and fleeting. The very floor of this apartment seemed to sway, as if we were not on the fifth floor of a sturdy century-old building, but on a raft on the high seas. I have never been so aware of living in history as ‘it is happening. I have never felt so stupid for perceiving “history” as in the past and the present as static. The Afghans would have been way ahead of me. These people know the true nature of the present: flexible, coiled and capricious, like a live, crackling electric cable. The present can turn murderous in no time.
I called my parents at their home in the upstate. My dad couldn’t hear me because, as always, their classical music station was blowing up all over the house. I said, “Turn on the TV! THE CENTER OF WORLD TRADE HAS FALLEN. I had to shout in part to make myself understood.
It was not a lonely bike recognition day. Hand in hand, Jonathan and I took the West Side bike path. We did not talk. Sirens blaring, emergency vehicles raced down the deserted West Side Highway – in one direction. Many other pedestrians joined us on this pilgrimage. No one else was speaking either. A plume rose from the end of the island and dragged for miles over the river. As the crowd moved forward and grew, the air grew acrid and gray powder dulled the floral landscaping of the Hudson Greenway. We were all polite – a little embarrassed, silent, but sometimes nodding to each other and, unusually, crossing our eyes.
Our procession was authorized to Greenwich Street, where behind the cordon stood a vast pile of smoking slag, three stories high. The observers took turns for a minute or two of silence, then graciously gave way to the others. The smartphone generation would find it amazing, but no one was taking pictures. Most of these New Yorkers were probably secular, but it was a religious moment, a funeral moment. We paid tribute to him.