MUST BE FOREVER IN MEMORIAM
The past is not dead;
It’s not even past.
By Victor Lana
As many Americans mark the fourth anniversary of 9/11 in a variety of ways, there is still pain, anger, and frustration about what happened in New York, Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania that day. Innocent people who were at work in the target buildings, families going on vacation, children visiting relatives, and dedicated flight crews tending to air travelers were brutally murdered by a group of cowardly thugs.
There was nothing brave about the hijackers (as some obviously insane pundits here in America once suggested), but their appalling actions created opportunities for many people to become heroes: the rescuers at the Twin Towers, many of whom never went home; the co-workers at the Pentagon and World Trade Center, and even a group of passengers on a doomed jet who learned of the other attacks on cell phones and were determined to stop that last plane. And stop it they did.
In memory there is sometimes comfort, but I still find nothing of the sort. During the weeks and months after 9/11, there was a good deal of talk about “closure.” I still have found none. My sister lost a good man that day in the South Tower, a fire lieutenant with more bravery and tenacity in his little finger than all of those criminals who hijacked the jets put together. They got up as on any normal day; she gave him twenty bucks to buy bagels for the guys at the firehouse, and he was off to work and she would never see him again.
There are countless stories like this. You don’t have to be a New Yorker to know about them, to understand their impact on individuals as well as the city itself and our country as a whole. Everyday people were thrust into an extraordinary and unprecedented crisis. I was stuck at work while my wife was home with our new baby. Even though my family was miles away from the towers, I feared for them as I couldn’t get a signal on my cell phone. No one at work could get a signal. It was like something out of a horror film as those buildings came down, but only it was frighteningly real. Was the whole country under attack? Waiting to learn more about what was happening, I felt helpless and powerless. Most of the time I still do.
As the months passed I struggled at work, eventually resigning from my job because I couldn’t think straight or work the way I should. I was not only thinking about my sister’s loss, because two old friends died that day as well. I hadn’t seen them in years, but that was not important in the scheme of things. Knowing someone is there and not seeing him because of divergent lives and careers and whatever else is different than knowing you’re never going to see a person again.
The same can be said about the towers themselves. I grew up in Queens, and I could see the Twin Towers from my rooftop. What was once only a vast expanse of sky, slowly and surely became filled with two of the most amazing and enormous buildings I had ever seen. They looked gigantic from a distance, and when I first went to see them in person, I felt dwarfed by their monolithic shadows as I stood gazing up at them from the street, unable to see where they stopped and the sky began.
Now my city has a gaping hole where they used to stand. I don’t think I can ever accept this new skyline, even though it is the old way it used to be when I was a kid. There is a pernicious vacancy now, a crater filled with seemingly busy men and talk of hopes and dreams of a memorial. If one stands on the perimeter these days and looks down into the “pit” which was Ground Zero, all of the kings horses and all the kings men are hard at work, but none of this activity will ever cause the old buildings to rise out of the ashes.
Any kind of memorial, and there has been great debate regarding this here in New York, must preserve the footprints of the towers. Most of the 9/11 families agree that this area is sacrosanct. It is a place where many perished and their bodies never were recovered, so this is their resting place, the most hallowed of ground. Someday buildings will rise anew here, some kind of memorial, and a garden or hall of remembrance. This is as it should be, for so many of us New Yorkers are still working our way through it. Some have done better than others, and I can only be happy for them. Still there is a haunting sense of incongruity, a deep and unrelenting feeling of loss, and the thought that our friends and loved ones are not at rest. They may never be.
What we must do is to try to make the way toward tomorrow, and the day after that, easier for all. The only way to do this is keeping the memorial flame aglow, shedding light on the atrocity of 9/11, and never forgetting it. Ever! In doing this we will honor all those innocents who died on that glorious late summer day in September 2001 in perpetuity. Anything less would be an inglorious shame for New Yorkers and all Americans.
Copyright © Victor Lana 2005
About two years after 9/11, I got the courage and inspiration to start writing about what happened. Since I am primarily a fiction writer, I began approaching different circumstances and thinking them out as fiction, even though they were based on the reality of that day and the timeline of events. When I finally got done with the first story, I showed it to my sister. She gave me her approval and I got back to work. Eventually I wrote twelve stories and they will be coming out later this year in my new book, The Savage Quiet September Sun, which is dedicated to the memory of one of New York City’s Bravest, Fire Lieutenant Steven J. Bates, Engine Company 235, Brooklyn, NY.