A 9/11 Love Letter to New York, the City That Stood

Even now, on this night time/Among the many ruins of the Put up-Vergilian Metropolis/The place our previous is a chaos of graves/and the barbed-wire stretches forward/Into our future until it’s misplaced to sight,/Our grief is just not Greek: As we bury our lifeless/We all know with out realizing there’s motive for what we bear,/That our harm is just not a desertion, that we’re to pity/Neither ourselves nor our metropolis…– W. H. Auden, Memorial for the Metropolis, June 1949


In sleep, I dreamt of sirens, shrill and sanguineous. They roused me simply earlier than 9. It was gentle exterior, clear and heat, one other new September. Senior 12 months had simply begun. Summer time sand nonetheless peppered our footwear, and we sensed an excellent change hovering on the horizon: the tip of faculty, a ceremony of passage, free-falling quick into our grownup lives.

However this morning, these sirens have been nonetheless wailing. To flee the noise, I padded to the kitchen to brew a cup of tea and take within the dormitory view. The home windows appeared south, over an countless sea of skyscrapers roasting within the solar. Oh teeming metropolis, oh abnormal morning, oh canvas of vivid blue sky. Then, in the direction of the tip of decrease Manhattan, there it was: a pillar of thick black smoke.

It shimmered violently with threads of glass and dirt.

My classmates wandered down the corridor and instructed me the news. The radio was saying some poor pilot had misplaced management of his aircraft. How unhappy, we stated. How odd. What a horrible accident.

Then, a couple of minutes later, the second aircraft crashed and instantly, all people was up. Everyone was crowding into the frequent room. Turning on the TV. Listening to the daytime anchors. We waited for them to inform us what was occurring. However they couldn’t. They didn’t know something greater than we did—which was that the accidents have been clearly intentional, so town have to be below assault. That the nation have to be below assault.

I believe we anticipated somebody to assuage us as they delivered the news. To guarantee us that all the pieces (our metropolis, our school, our blithe little lives) was going to be all proper. However even the adults didn’t know what to do. We watched the broadcasts for hours. Nobody spoke. The questions have been too unspeakable to marvel out loud.

By noontime, with two extra planes in ruins, the Pentagon on hearth, cell service down, and the FAA grounding all flights, I walked over to the scholar corridor to see if the pay telephones nonetheless labored. Inside, an excellent sea of scholars clustered across the tv. The gang was silent, save for one fellow who had been monopolizing the telephones. A protracted line of hopefuls stretched behind him. He was speaking—nicely, shrieking—to his dad and mom in a excessive voice, recounting the reside CNN updates and gasping in regards to the thickness of the smoke and the particles as if he have been perched on a firetruck proper on the sting of the insanity. His hysteria was so breathless, it appeared virtually euphoric.

Solely later did it happen to me that he, like the remainder of us, was in a state of profound and dedolent shock.

I drifted all the way down to Riverside Park. Within the 91st Avenue gardens, late-summer gillyflowers and darkish cyclamen bloomed. The buds gave off a musky, fecund scent. Strangers walked by, averting their eyes. I appeared throughout the Hudson to the horizon, the place metallic hordes of helicopters usually swarmed the sky. The air was vivid, and empty. Besides, occasionally, when a fighter jet screamed overhead, heading in the direction of the carnage the place the husks of the towers smoldered like pyres in some horrible, miaiphonos sacrifice.


A couple of evenings after the assault, a gaggle of professors and distinguished teachers held a “teach-in” at St. John’s the Divine. I tagged together with a good friend who knew one of many huge pictures. We packed into the venue behind a herd of rowdy grad college students. A number of copies of Foucault floated round.

Already the occasions of 9/11 had began to spiral into retributions and follies. The navy was primed to invade Afghanistan. The town’s Muslims and Sikhs have been being shamefully focused by their neighbors. That very same night time, President Bush had declared to Congress that you just have been both with us or the terrorists.

The rally’s audio system targeted on the cretin within the White Home and a long time of U.S. international coverage, all these oceanic swells of historical past that preceded the assault and would quickly ripple outward from it. They talked in regards to the fall of the 2 towers when it comes to a political metaphor, an existential fantasy.

The viewers cheered for every new speaker as if at a marketing campaign occasion. We didn’t communicate the names of the dead.

These strolling shadows. These poor gamers.

I developed a headache midway via the speeches and spent the remainder of the night sitting alone on the campus’s easy steps, watching twilight pall over the good library. Round its crown, names of long-dead thinkers have been etched in stone. As soon as residing, loving, determined, bawdy, stunning flesh and people—perhaps they have been simply metaphors, now, too.

Fall wore on. Family and friends from the West Coast checked in, nevertheless it was unimaginable to speak at size to anybody on the skin. Manhattan felt quarantined and the mainland was very distant. Fallen angels nonetheless lurked about. In the meantime, town started to maneuver from uncooked grief right into a frantic, grim, Rabelaisian mode. Eat, drink, be merry (and don’t full that sentence). We stayed up even later into the evenings as winter finals loomed. There have been sudden break-ups, sudden affairs. There have been blood drives, fundraisers for downtown companies, clean-up committees to cart away the layers of sickening ash. The libraries have been empty. It was arduous to focus on something for quite a lot of minutes at a time.

Our metropolis ached. A metropolis not on a hill, however on the bottom, within the mud, blood in its mouth, refusing to beg.

In November, one other aircraft crashed right into a block of residential homes within the Rockaways shortly after takeoff. The trigger was simple mechanical error. But within the hour or so earlier than we knew what had gone incorrect aboard the flight, a collective pressure settled over town. We have been all considering the identical factor: right here it goes once more. We had all been ready for it. Possibly all of us nonetheless are.


Dimly, dustily, we started to anticipate the subsequent assault.

In August 2003, town skilled its greatest blackout in a long time. It was previous lunchtime in Union Sq. when it occurred. Inside minutes an excellent flood of individuals began to comb silently south alongside Broadway. Throughout the road on the Espresso Store, the waitresses fumbled about at midnight. All of the clocks stopped ticking.

It appeared apparent that terrorists had reduce the ability traces, however there was nothing to do besides be part of the crowds flowing downtown. In Little Italy, a loaf of stale bread and a Calabrese salami have been going for $25. We walked throughout the Brooklyn Bridge because it undulated ominously below 1000’s of syncopated footfalls. On the opposite facet of the river, Marty Markowitz was handing out free water and hustling for votes. Later, we discovered it was no assault, and so spent the night wandering across the neighborhood, the place eating places had jubilantly thrown open their doorways to hawk heat beers on the sidewalk. Neighbors clustered on brownstone stoops within the thick humid darkish. The lights got here again on the subsequent morning.

A 12 months later, round Halloween 2004, I took the A practice as much as an space that the actual property brokers wish to name Hudson Heights, on the very northern tip of Manhattan, for a celebration thrown by some actor-waiter varieties. As the group disembarked, a wierd siren began to sound within the station. My fellow passengers fidgeted and glanced furtively round. A couple of charged forward in the direction of the exits. A father and his child pressed towards one another. “What’s that noise, Daddy?” the kid requested. His dad didn’t reply, so the query simply floated within the air. Once we reached the road degree, the day exterior was tawny and harmless. I scanned the paper for phrase of a foiled plot close to 188th avenue, however by no means discovered it. I by no means heard these sirens within the subway once more.

The next July, we acquired phrase that do-it-yourself bombs had ripped via the London Underground and it appeared inevitable that the MTA could be subsequent.

Can we rely the variety of occasions we noticed helicopters begin to circle, or the trains disrupted, and we figured our borrowed days have been up?

A good friend, who watched the towers burn from Brooklyn and whose roommates stumbled house with tales of people leaping from nice heights and a sky obliterated with concrete mud, instructed me this story: In the future in the summertime of 2007, at work in Midtown, she seen an excellent cloud rising exterior her window. She didn’t communicate to her cubicle mates, nor they to her; but all of them stood up—quietly, concurrently—and filed down the staircase and out of the constructing. On the road, it was mass pandemonium. Individuals have been dashing away from Grand Central, whereas an enormous wall of vapor and particles blotted out the solar. She ran all the way in which to Instances Sq. earlier than stopping to name her mom to ask whether or not the assault had made nationwide news but. Her mom urged her daughter to get on the subway and flee. My good friend grew to become offended. What kind of particular person would go down into the forty second Avenue station throughout a terrorist assault? Solely a non-New Yorker, that’s who. Later, it turned out to be simply (“simply”) a steam-pipe explosion.

The town appeared to continually shimmer on the sting of obliteration. Most of us accepted that at some point—any day—the roulette wheel may flip and our quantity, New York’s quantity, could be up. And when that occurred, it will not matter whether or not our lives belonged to destiny or to blind, abject luck—just like the fearful luck that stalled one commuter only a second longer on that sun-drenched September morning but delivered one other into the stomach of the towers proper on time.


I grew to become obsessive about that passage in Dostoevsky’s The Fool the place the person faces the firing squad and is aware of his hour has arrived. And in addition different unusual questions: Ought to one be in the midst of the subway practice or on the again in an effort to survive if an deserted duffel bag detonated on the Q? Would one get vaporized if the bomb was within the subsequent automotive over? What have been the stations most definitely to get focused (Instances Sq.) and the way rapidly may you progress via them throughout the commuter rush?

Each time a cherished one flew on a aircraft, I used to be satisfied it will finish badly. If I occurred to fly and my flight was modified, I’d marvel: Was I the fortunate one, getting on a brand new, fortunate flight, or was this it, the tip, fini, the ultimate doom?

This went on for years—10 at the very least, perhaps extra.

The media would often publish near-misses by lone wolves, extremist crazies, and varied others who had town of their sights. The duo caught videotaping the 7 practice for Iran. The trio who concocted bombs for his or her backpacks to incinerate the two/3 line. The man who packed gunpowder inside his automotive and drove it into the theater district. The truck driver who helped analysis reduce the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. The plan to bomb the practice tunnels and flood the Monetary District. Or to gentle up the gas traces at JFK. Or blow up the subway. Or the Inventory Change plot.

My household couldn’t perceive why I stayed in New York.

However how are you going to abandon your metropolis, that nice wounded creature, a deer within the woods of dying, oh hart of my coronary heart, till it has healed? That’s a blood betrayal.

And but—time handed and handed once more and— The Floor Zero memorials steadily grew to become extra muted. The “unmentionable odour of dying” not offended our September nights. A brand new gleaming tower rose to even larger heights. Within the fall of 2012, a hurricane engulfed town at full moontide and drove brackish seawater deep into Wall Avenue—saltstorm burbling up from the subway stations like Styx overflowing—and buried the Rockaways below piles of sand. However nonetheless, town stood.

For 20 years, we held vigil, as every anniversary of Sept. 11 handed with out one other main man-made disaster. New York stored churning, shaping our days and our destinies. For 20 years, town—it stood.

The Brooklyn Bridge stood, spanning the harbor whose waters stretched out inexperienced and large to the ocean. The bustling avenues of Harlem stood, alive with music and tune. The cafes of the Village nonetheless spilled over with lovers, the majestic museums overflowed with artwork and pilgrims, consumers thronged the huge markets of Flushing and Jackson Heights. Brooklyn’s industrial shoreline, the sealight boardwalks alongside Coney Island, the rocky cliffs of the Bronx—they stood. The statues within the Met, which have seen ages and empires collapse, they stood and stand nonetheless. The broad elms nonetheless carpeted town in golden leaves every fall. Magnolias burst into bloom on Park Avenue in spring, the fireflies winked in Madison Sq. Park within the dusky warmth of the solstice, and autumn monarchs winged via the gardens each blue September. The skate boarders in Union Sq., the singers on Broadway, the crowds within the East Village at 3 am, the taxicabs and the moguls, mockingbirds and glass towers, all thrived. The dancing clock within the zoo stored chiming the hours. Falcons nonetheless swooped above the bridges. The fountains in Washington Sq. gushed with abandon. The avenues pulsed and the trains rumbled, residents from each nook of the earth nonetheless discovered this metropolis and fell in love with it, their very own private dreamtown.

The immense inexperienced splendour of Central Park, it stood. The 2 nice rivers, they flowed. The Statue of Liberty, she beckoned. These items, they stood quick and agency within the shadow of dying and move from the earth, they didn’t.

In September 2009, on a day so very totally different than that vivid, horrible one, chilly winds whipped throughout the Hudson as Joe Biden—then vice chairman Biden, and on the town for the annual 9/11 tribute—quoted from the poet Mary Oliver: “In the meantime, life goes on.”

Gone, now, are the parachutes stashed below our desks. Gone are the psychological escape routes via the bowels of the MTA. The Instances known as these items “cobwebbed reminiscences that by no means got here to move.”

Gone is the gaping wound south of Tribeca.

The good friend who watched the towers fall from Brooklyn moved away a decade in the past. On a latest Sept. 11, none of her neighbors out west remembered the date as something out of the abnormal. For years, it was there, on the forefront of the nationwide psyche—all these firefighters and EMTs, the heroes on the stairwells, the bravery of the Flight 93 resisters, the three,051 orphans, the Pentagon burning, the miracle of the churchyard whose Revolutionary graves survived dying raining perversely from the sky. New York’s unhealable wound. After which, instantly, it was lined by the rosy sheen of scar tissue, fusing into one thing imperfect and new. New folks moved into town, who had no firsthand reminiscence of 9/11. Others left perpetually, for it was time.

The memorial spotlights nonetheless search the darkened skies yearly, however they virtually paused final 12 months when the coronavirus hit, with its dying toll so many occasions larger than 9/11, with its personal sirens and dank worry, its personal pale morgues, its personal invisible threats on planes. Our metropolis has withstood this, too—although, in fact, too many New Yorkers didn’t see the opposite facet of it, simply as too many by no means noticed the daybreak on Sept. 12, these 20 lengthy years in the past. This can be a new wound, then, for a brand new era.


Did I inform you that I used to be born on the cusp of a day of catastrophe? My brother, the breach twin, virtually tipped us over into the dies irae—we have been saved by Cesarean simply earlier than midnight chimed one stark and snowy December. Birthed earlier than the “date which is able to reside in infamy”—a date on which, FDR assured our forefathers, “all the time will our entire nation bear in mind the character of the onslaught towards us.” Inform me, what number of boys died that day, sunk to their depths beneath the Pacific brine? Who’s it that may inform me the numbers and names of the fallen? On Oahu the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row… and but we’ve got forgotten their names and numbers, as nameless and quite a few because the stalks of seagrass on Hawaiian seashores, the tufted garden of St. Paul’s Chapel, the inexperienced stalks of Flanders subject, all the gorgeous uncut hair of graves.

However New Yorkers can nonetheless inform you. New Yorkers bear in mind. There was earlier than 9/11, after which there was after it. Simply as, now, there will probably be earlier than COVID-19 after which there will probably be after it. Now we have lived via determined occasions, you and I. Now we have survived them. However they shall be seared into our brains past the tip of issues.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-911-love-letter-to-new-york-the-city-that-stood?supply=articles&through=rss | A 9/11 Love Letter to New York, the Metropolis That Stood


ClareFora is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. ClareFora joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: clarefora@interreviewed.com.

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