I was at the gym this morning in Chicago when I started crying on the elliptical machine.
It came on me very suddenly, as if someone had smacked me in the chest with a crowbar and momentarily winded me. A deep intake of breath, and tears. The culprit, as it is every year on this day, was CNN and its annual trip down to Ground Zero, complete with memorial ceremonies, grieving relatives, rerun footage of towers burning, smoking and falling and people screaming, crying and dying.
In those days after 9/11/01, New Yorkers only talked about one thing. Not Osama Bin Laden or whether their neighbors were morons or pussies or about creepy neighbors making actual or veiled threats or women looking for dates or shakshouka or tznius clothing or whether Conservative conversions create real Jews or whether 1/60 of shrimp in the coating of a fish stick renders the product treyf…
In those days, it was everyone asking each other how they were now, and where they were then, and did they know anyone who, and what was going to be tomorrow. Movements and denominations and religions and synagogues and churches and supermarkets and doormen and movie theater patrons and rabbis and priests and community centers ceased to argue over the mundane, and ambled through the City in a hushed, subdued, inertia-driven fog, moving forward because they had to, even though they lacked the enthusiasm and drive of but a few days before. Crossing party lines, people touched each other on the shoulders, embraced near strangers, and expressed their love to those they held dear. We reached out because the equilibrium had been disrupted, and no one was sure what tomorrow would bring, or if tomorrow would arrive at all.
Four years on, we’re back to “normal.” Sniping at each other, calling each other names, once again absorbed within our own circumstances and self-obsessed as we ever were.
Today, in a midwest city, I remembered the fallen, mourned the loss of life and landmarks, and as I read Jewlicious, I somehow found myself longing for the unity of those first days, when tomorrow was such an uncertainty that kindness was the natural instinct, the one positive outgrowth of a world rocked by violence and suffering. In our grief, we united. And to my great grief, we have since fragmented, resulting in the unfortunate fracture of a considerate, if painful peace, in favor of war abroad as well as at home.
I have no solutions to propose, no great thoughts to relay or plans that will rescue us. I have no quotes from the famous or the infamous to offer. I simply remember. And write. And hope.