From the window of the Manhattan apartment where I have taken refuge from my sudden divorce, I can see the Freedom Tower under construction, glass skin steadily creeping up the scaffolding, reflecting blue sky.
During the day, I watch the clouds moving behind the crane on the top of the building. At night I watch the building’s steady red and white lights.
As I look out at the window, I have been thinking about events that change life so completely that history – world history, or personal history, or both — becomes forever divided. There is the time before, and the time after.
Events that become a rift in time are always chaotic. In the moment, they are hard to pin down or describe. The adrenaline makes it hard to remember specifics, and you need ask people to confirm that you saw what you saw and you heard what you heard, because you cannot possibly trust your perceptions.
There’s a lot of action, and all the first responders, and, in the purest sense of the word, drama.
And then, at some point, that part is over. The intensity fades. And you are then looking at the long territory of the rest of your life.
Let’s be clear, this is not a clean slate or a new beginning. There is rubble and debris, some of it sacred and more of it profane. There is a deep pit, a wound.
Outside the pit there are many mundane logistics and, of course, legal battles about who gets what and how to rebuild and what the scope of the rebuilding will be.
And there is the reckoning with what can only be described as a colossal failure of intelligence, and of all the redundant layers of protection that you always thought were supposed to stop such a thing from happening.
And there are serious discussions about strategies to prevent future attacks.
And when you realize how futile that is, there is the urge to go live in a bunker, to zip on the body armor, to always have a gas mask nearby, to drive instead of fly.
Which is to say that it is becomes difficult to separate emotional responses from the logical ones.
The phrase “the worst part of all of this…” becomes a standard start of a sentence.
The worst part of all this is that there are many unanswered questions. Such as: why me, why us? Of course we are imperfect, we are human, but this response to human imperfection seems so…extreme. Surely we could have talked about it, and ideally sometime before the murdering began?
And finally there is the question of justice, which is different from the ritual taking of responsibility. It is not at all satisfying when the perpetrators claim responsibility for their attacks, because they do so only to self-justify and self-absolve. Like all cowards, they tell their victims that they brought the harm on themselves.
Eventually, there will be a memorial, and then the moving on. But what was toxic will still be toxic, and what’s been poisoned will stay poisoned for a very long time.
Alison J. Stein
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