Monday, September 11, 2006

September Diary

Like prayer, memorial seems a basic human need. I'm not sure what the point is, but today, with millions of Americans, I remember.
Yesterday morning I went to class as usual and discussed Deuteronomy until 10:30, blissfully unaware that hours earlier, my world had changed.

I saw the footage on the student center television while on my way to check my mail. A great explosion, and the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground. I gaped, unable to digest the information before my eyes, unable to conceive of the New York City skyline without the Twin Towers. Then I thought, "my sisters!" They were at Stuyvesant, only a few blocks away. For the first time since I was younger than I can remember, I sucked my thumb.

I tried to call home but the circuits were overloaded. I tried to call [DH]; same deal. I called [Rymenhild], who hadn't heard the news. When I told her, she said, "This just doesn't fit my conception of the world."

Two planes hijacked. Thousands killed -- passengers, business people at the World Trade Center, pedestrians on the street. And all I could think was, "my sisters."

[. . .]

I met Rabbi [B] in the cafeteria and spoke with him briefly. He and [the Rebbitzen] don't know many people in New York or D.C. They know people in Israel, though, where nearly every day lately a shooting or a bombing sends them to the phone, checking to make sure that their loved ones are still alive. I'm sure he wasn't thinking this, but, in part because of my own guilt, I read it in the Rabbi's eyes: "Now you know what it's like."

[. . .]

The irony, the irony. It almost makes me believe in God -- this is just the kind of fucked-up thing He would do.

[. . .]

[Middle Sister] was crying over the phone. [Youngest] saw the second tower go down from chem lab, she said. They saw people jumping out of the windows. Their classmates were crying, "My parents work there!"

[. . .]

They walked home together, from Chambers to 72nd street (all transportation was down), through the screaming and the carnage and the debris. [Middle Sister] kept looking back, and [Youngest] said, "don't look back" -- "I'm surprised you didn't turn into a pillar of salt," I said --

"Please come home. I'd really like you to come home," she sobbed. I started sobbing, too.

"All right."

So now I am home.

I didn't stop crying that night. I put away my books and went for a walk, through the parking lot, across campus, then back to the chapel where סליחות [the Penitential Prayers] were beginning at 12. I stood outside in the shadows while people filed in, trying to stop up the tears. The service began, אשרי, and then, in the awesome tune of the ימים נוראים [Days of Awe],

יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא
[May His Great Name Be Magnified and Enhanced!]

I turned and walked home.

[. . .]

Years ago, on a rainy morning, the tenth of [Av], I wrote of the ashes of the [Holy Temple], still smoldering. I wrote of the rain, succumbing to the temptation to use hackneyed water metaphors -- I said that the world was crying. Well, it is raining now, and like any torrent of tears, it is making matters worse. Rescue workers continue to work in the smoke and dampness, trying to save a few lives, under the cold grey sky.

This is a time of high character -- tragedy does that. My sisters say that a shoe store owner stood on the sidewalk Tuesday, handing pairs of sneakers to women in high heels to help them get home. ([Youngest] broke down when she saw a pair of abandoned pumps lying in the street.) My sisters offered their beds to the hospital Tuesday night, but they weren't needed -- people weren't making it to the hospital; everyone was dying. So, too, the American Red Cross is overloaded with people across the country volunteering their blood, money, medical supplies, and time. If only they needed us now; we are all so eager to help. The tragedy is that they really don't need us.

[. . .]

[Rosh Hashanah] is Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to stay in school to avoid missing French and Akkadian Monday, but it seems trivial now. I came home Thursday night; I am here for a week. School, only school. . . it is inessential.

[. . .]
I walked downtown with my mother today. It is out of character for both of us to want to survey the scene of a disaster, but this event remains so unbelievable that even we feel inclined to look, again and again. (I went down to Riverside Park last night and stood at the end of the pier, staring at the giant cloud of smoke that still hung in the place where the towers stood less than a week ago.) On Christopher Street, a small crowd has been gathered since Tuesday, cheering on the rescue vehicles with flags and roses and signs that say "Thank You" and "You Are Our Heroes." Flags hang everywhere, at half mast, including at porn shops, one of which sported a sign reading, "God Bless America." (My mother said she wished we could broadcast that in Afghanistan.) I have never before seen New Yorkers -- or anyone else, for that matter, on such a grand scale -- being so patriotic or generally so well-behaved.
[. . .]

[. . .]
בין דין לדין [between Judgment and Judgment], everyone in this secular empire with the slightest glimmering of faith is at prayer, awaiting the next phase of this horror. So I, too, am starting to pray.
[. . .]


Rymenhild said...

You know, I don't remember saying that. I remember that I was in the middle of a Mercedes Lackey novel about fire and death when the phone rang. I remember that you were the one who called me. I remember saying, "Come over here." But other than that, our conversation escaped my memory entirely.

I think I remember you IMming DH from my computer, or maybe you just put his name on my buddy list and I IMmed him later. Or something.

A strange, strange day.

elf said...

I think I remember you IMming DH from my computer, or maybe you just put his name on my buddy list and I IMmed him later.

I remember that now. I think maybe I put his name on your buddy list, but I couldn't get through because he was in class.

A strange, strange day.

I think that's the understatement of the week.

fleurdelis28 said...

A strange, strange day.

It's weird -- I don't remember anything from that night, I think. I must have had dinner, had thoughts as I fell asleep, but I have no memories after about 3 pm.

Mar Gavriel said...

I walked from the Upper East Side to downtown Brooklyn, where I met up with my father and sister. In the early evening, I looked over the river, and saw that the building had entirely burned down to the ground. Then, I saw further smoke. I asked my father whether he knew what it was. He said: "It's the rubble from the building. After the entire thing collapsed, the rubble itself caught fire, and the smoke re-ascended."

And I thought: For the first time in my life, I truly understand the statement of Hazal that the fires destroying the Beis Hammikdosh were set on the 9th of Ov, but burned the entire day of the 10th.