On Saturday, fifty-two weeks to the day, we burned money and incense for the dead. I think it’s time to heal now. In a sense, it’s already long since happened.

Last September 8, B.’s father passed away after a brief, agonizing battle with liver cancer. I heard the news while in Vancouver, and booked the first flight to New York City that I could, which happened to be the redeye on the 9th. Early morning, September 10, I arrived at JFK airport.

On the 11th all hell broke loose.

The wake and burial, originally planned for Thursday and Friday, didn’t actually happen until the following Monday and Tuesday. By then, there had been so much death and grief that I didn’t think I had any left to give. In the end, of course, I was wrong. Somehow, though, I believe that all these events allowed for an idea to slip into my mind that to this day still affects how I live my life, and helped me (and B. to some extent, I believe) in those first few days to deal with the tragedy.

We all have a need to know that on some level or plane, someone cares about and is looking out for us. For some, this translates into religion, or a belief in a higher order. On a simpler level, it could refer to people we have known and loved, be they living or dead. I’m not particularly religious, but this idea, call it grace or whatever, is one I’ve been giving a lot of thought to of late.

In the case of B.’s father, if indeed he had to go, perhaps he chose that particular time because it was right.

Consider the following:

  1. He had been hospitalized at what became the main staging ground for medical aid after the attacks. Any later, and he wouldn’t have been able to receive proper care or attention in his final hours.
  2. Several members of the family live outside of New York City, mainly in California. Any later, and nobody would have been able to fly to New York in time for the funeral. Any earlier, and who knows if any of them could have been on a doomed flight.
  3. On the morning of the 11th, I was supposed to stay with a friend in Battery Park City, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. B. would have picked me up the following morning at around 9 a.m. Inexplicably, however, at the last minute we decided that the three of us should stay with B.’s sister in Brooklyn instead. To this day, I’m still not sure how this happened. An unseen hand?

Now, none of these dangers were necessarily likely, although all were in the realm of the possible. This gnawed at me for quite a while, but in the end it does seem to suggest (at least to me) that we were all somehow touched by a moment of grace.

A part of me hates to even think about it in these terms, because for every soul who can relate a similar story there are hundreds more for whom there was no such intervention. But it’s something that I can and need to latch onto. To heal. To overcome.

In the back of my mind, I know that I would have been out there, right there in the shadow with my camera to document everything. In retrospect, it’s easy to forget, but in that single hour between the impacts and the collapse, it seemed impossible that those mighty structures could be brought down so easily. B. knows it too, and I think that to this day still wonders what might have been.

In the funeral procession I was seated in the car meant for “friends of the family.” I wouldn’t have expected more; in fact, until the wake there were a great number of B.’s relatives I had never met. However, a “friend of the family” is not truly part of the circle; the opportunities to express grief are limited and insufficient. Being able to share one’s mourning with others is a catharsis not available to outsiders, and I was acutely aware that I was one.

The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York City was for me in many ways a similar experience. Many have compared it to a funeral, although there is little consensus as to the identity of the deceased (the city itself? the thousands slain? innocence? America?). I? I was certainly an outsider in this, as well. But I had grown to love the city and its people; I too was there during the tragedy, and lived through it. Just as I knew and loved B.’s father.

Where’s my catharsis?

Sorry. I’m just venting spleen and it’s late. Or early, depending on how you look at it.

I’m afraid, you know. Afraid to sleep, because I don’t want to wake up and find out that something terrible has happened. Afraid to stay awake, because I don’t want to be watching something terrible happening. Afraid that if something does, that there won’t be any grace for me this time.

The rational part of me says that nothing will happen. Nothing will. Right?

  • Once again, you said it all, and eloquently and brilliantly besides!

    Kudos to you! You inspire me to keep going.

  • I'd like to thank those who responded here.

    First off, I'd like to say that I didn't want this entry to dwell on September 11 as some kind of mass cultural phenomenon.

    I think the events of a year ago have a different personal meaning to everyone who was affected by it. For many, it wasn't something that they ever had time to deal with when it happened, and an anniversary makes for a convenient and resonant occasion on which to do so.

    That's what this post basically was: me coming to terms with my own unresolved issues surrounding that week. Things that had been bugging me for a long time because they hadn't quite ever reached the conscious part of my mind. It was... very therapeutic. I wrote it up as an act of catharsis, the one I missed a year ago. I posted it afterwards, perhaps thinking it might help others as well, but without any expectations that it might actually do so.

    Most importantly, it's about moving on, and putting 9/11 behind me. So yeah, it's not about dwelling on the topic at all. Quite the opposite, really.

    Now, I could probably talk about the horrors of Pearl Harbor at length-- or any other Jerry Bruckheimer film, if you prefer.

  • The Plagiarist

    Ok, for the sake of humor (since I want it to be funny), how should Pearl Harbor be remembered? My initial comment was in no way meant to suggest that Pearl Harbor should be remembered as an obscene terrorist act. Unless of course that is what YOU are saying.

    Oh... doubt it as much as you want, but I am the much reviled Plagiarist.

  • mlee

    Pearl Harbor is so remembered wrongly, it's not even funny. But that aside, this entry was about something more personal than just 9/11. Lastly, I have serious doubts that you are who you claim to be.

  • yak...yak... yak... I couldn't finish reading even half of it. I got bored. The subject of Sep 11 is really getting old. I'm sick of it. You're all acting like it's Pearl Harbor. Now, that's something to remember.

  • There's so much from our conversation that morning that I wanted to put into my post, but you and Tony handled so well, that it just didn't bear a bastardized recapitulation.

    Thank you for committing it to posterity, my friend. And so eloquently besides.

  • mlee

    Beautifully written.

  • ab


    the fact that you were able to share these things to us proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is still grace in your life. In my life. In our world. Thank you for doing what I have not been able to do yet. I'm sick of crying at MTV promos and cotton commercials and every overly-dramatic, overly-cinematic 9/11 special on tv. I showed up at work this morning just hoping for something real, and that's what you've given us. So thank you - I hope you find catharsis for yourself, because you have already given me just what I needed to be able to go into this day knowing that there is still grace around us, everywhere.

  • rachel

    Y., thank you so much for sharing.

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