On a personal note, I have found it difficult to really get back to work in any significant way over the past week. Although I didn’t personally know anyone who was killed in the events of 9.11, I feel very close to the events in a number of ways.
My youngest bother lives in New York City, and my parents and another brother live in Washington D.C. The Thursday before the hijackings, I was in Manhattan with family for my brother’s wedding. Two days later I was in Washington D.C. staying with my girlfriend about 2 miles from the Pentagon. My brother and his wife flew out of New York less than 24 hours before the events on Tuesday. I could have been there – people I know were there (and thankfully got out in time) – on the Brooklyn Bridge, in buildings nearby.
Twice in the past year I had stayed at a hotel right across the street from the World Trade Center: the Millennium Hilton – it’s the big black monolith that you will occasionally see at “ground zero” on TV. It used to look like a small addition to the neighborhood, but now it looms large over the wreckage. I wonder what has happened to the people in the lobby, the people at the deli down the street, the tourists at the fountain between the towers as small as ants when we would watch from the 39th floor of the hotel.
There was a church next door. The monuments, some of which were centuries old, some of which were impossible to read after decades of rain washed the stone smooth, are now likely gone – pulverized to dust and drifting over the city as a tiny part of the perpetual cloud of white haze.
Most of what is upsetting about the collapse of the towers is the loss of life. But the collapse of the towers is not insignificant. Whenever I take a flight across the country, I realize that there is so little that we do on this earth that changes the basic landscape of fields, forests, deserts, mountains. There is not much of human endeavor that rivals what Mother Nature has created.
There are exceptions: the Great Wall in China, the pyramids in Egypt, India’s Taj Mahal, Russia’s Kremlin, the Coliseum in Rome, just about every country can claim such an achievement. The Twin Towers of the WTC were such a creation.
There is something in human nature that causes us to strive to create – whether it is in the form of buildings, art, children, or even economic theory. The World Trade Center was more than an American landmark; it was a grand human accomplishment. It was also a representation of a world that could come together – over 60 nations have lost citizens in the tragedy. Its destruction and the killings of over 5,000 people was more than an attack on U.S. citizens; it was an affront to what it means to be human.
We will, of course, get over the loss of the buildings and we will, eventually, mourn and avenge our fellow world citizens. Our world will, in a surprisingly short amount of time, return to normal.
It is in a time like this that we should reflect on who we are and who we want to be. A student came to my office after the incident and said of the rescue workers, “I want to be like them, one of the ‘good guys.'” This is, I hope and believe, a decision that more and more people will make as a result of the disaster and will commit themselves to a way of life that adds to the greater good in some small way. A better and stronger community can be the only result.
My best wishes go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.
John S. Irons