Eight years ago, on September 10th, I had one of the most profound lunch dates of my lifetime. I was in New York City visiting my then fiance’ on my one weekend off a month. We had made the short hop over to New Jersey the day before to shop for wedding bands at this charming little Celtic place. We found a band that carried the Claddagh motif in a style she liked so that made it a very good day.
The following day, a Monday, I was to head back home to Virginia as I usually had to do but it was so lovely outside we decided to have lunch before I departed. We left her apartment on Staten Island and went down to Richmond Terrace to a little place she recommended called the Cargo Cafe. Being the artist that she is I’m quite sure she was drawn to this place by its decor. The outside of the building was done in a mural and many brightly colored paintings adorned the interior walls. The tables were all covered in plain white paper and each was supplied with small round container of crayons. As we doodled while we waited for our order she began to question me about how I had written so many poems to her since we had met, especially given the fact that I had never done so before meeting her. She handed me a crayon and prompted me to compose right there on the tabletop.
So I thought for moment and scribbled;
Lunch with my Hunny
On a lovely summer day
Down by the water
At the Cargo Cafe
Later that night after I had returned home I wrote a few more lines and completed the poem as I remembered the time we spent together. We gazed out the windows at the Manhattan skyline and she remarked about how she needed to bring her camera down to the boardwalk near the Ferry terminal and take some photographs of the city. Little did we know how soon all of that would come to pass but under very different circumstances.
I travelled home that day through some of the worst thunderstorms I had seen in some time. Lightning flashed and stuck the ground in vibrant bolts and the rain was torrential in places so needless to say I didn’t get home in record time. I made a late phone call to her to let her know I was fine at home and went to bed shortly after.
The next morning I arrived at work to find things in quite a mess since the storm had knocked out the power the night before. We got busy cleaning up and getting things going so when I got a free moment I slipped over to the cafeteria to grab my morning orange juice.
When I came back to my work area one of my co-workers told me a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Your first snap reaction was that some light aircraft had gotten off course in cloudy conditions and hit one of the buildings. This was easy for me to assume since I had been with Trish into Manhattan on several occasions when clouds were low and the upper floors of the Towers were hidden from view. I asked if was a small aircraft and the solemn response was that it was an airliner.
Another co-worker told me to go up to the 5th floor break room where a TV had been set up. I know my face had to reflect the dumbstruck feeling I had as I watched the news footage. The report was almost surreal as if this was some bad disaster film rolling before my eyes. A few moments later however the gritty reality set in as the news cameras captured the second plane blast into the other Tower. The rest of what happened that day is a well documented account of life,death and loss.
The next time I returned to New York, Lower Manhattan had been reopened to pedestrian traffic. We traveled over on the Ferry and couldn’t take our eyes off of the smoldering wound in the New York skyline. Those familiar landmarks so often looked on in amazement were simply gone. I was fortunate enough on a previous trip to stand in the shadow of these marvels of architecture. The elegance of these glass and steel giants understated what a monument of construction they truly were. The artistry of the stonework in the courtyard swirled around a central sculpture, a metallic globe known as “The Sphere”. Somehow this piece of artwork managed to survive the attacks and today stands in Battery Park, still damaged with dents and holes as a memorial to the events of that fateful day.
The Towers stood like sentinels in their majestic beauty, they even served as a reliable compass, whenever you came up to the street level from the subway it was very easy to look around and find the Trade Center and you instantly knew which way was downtown or uptown.
When we stepped off the Ferry on this day however things were very different. The usual busy traffic, the stream of taxi cabs, the blaring horns and the background noise of hundreds of people talking about their day was replaced by eerie silence. A misty rain was falling that day but every building, sidewalk and park fence wore a dull gray coating of thick soot and dust. The throngs of people leaving the ferry walked in quiet whispers as though they were walking in a cemetery, everyone headed for the same location.
The sidewalk leading down to One Liberty Plaza was filled with souls staring in silent disbelief, only the sobbing and gasps for breath could be heard in muffled tones. The arm of a huge crane lifted a basket filled with firefighters and rescue workers and swung out over the fallen giants to lower them down into the now exposed lower levels. These valiant servants looked like insects against the backdrop of twisted girders and the one remaining piece of the facade that still reached over five stories high. It was almost as though that one stalwart lace of steel stood like the heart of the New Yorkers that surrounded it as if to say;
“I have fallen but I will never stay down, even in the face of horror and tragedy I shall stand fast.”
Today “Ground Zero” looks like nothing more than a construction site and given the state of our economy it may well look that way for a long time to come. The two images burned forever into my memory will always be how symbolic the Towers were of The Big Apple herself and how in a city filled with every race,creed and walk of life, a city pointed to as an example of so much deemed undesirable, they proved the common good that is in every man and woman. They proved that people can overcome and set aside differences and they showed us what real heroism is made of.
When I hear people today make statements like “bomb them back to the stone age” in reference to our enemies abroad, I cannot imagine the horror some innocent citizen of that country must feel if they survive such an attack. This was one city block in downtown Manhattan, Heaven help what it must be like when whole cities are laid waste like this.
September 11th, 2001 proved what great potential this country has when it wants to, when it needs to, its just sad it seems to take such tragedy to get so many un-entrenched from rigid opinions. The eight years that have passed since then are sad evidence that we have made little progress in those areas.
I am glad on a personal level that I can remember Sept 10th and those happy moments that filled that day. I savor everyday since then as my life with Trish has been more that I could have asked for, since I believe she truly is the answer to my prayers. Yet as horrific and hurtful as the days and months that followed were,I relish that I was able to have such a close experience with these events as I did. I truly believe that they changed my life in ways that watching and reading could never have done. Seeing people on the streets and in subway stations crying out for those who were “missing”, the memorials of candles and pictures scattered in so many locations and the “thank you” gifts of flowers and food that was outside every firehouse was heartbreaking beyond measure. Yet in the midst of all this sorrow, you saw people hugging one another that were total strangers otherwise. You saw comfort and respect on level unparalleled than any I have ever known…and it is a feeling I wish could be there once again.
Maybe one day the people of this country will hold the Flag and each others hands with a greater purpose in mind. The purpose that America is only as great as we make it, and that idea is made of people and not material things. A land born of unity,”To form a more perfect union” and to find what brings us together instead of tearing us apart.
Let us not allow the souls lost that day and lives of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces that have been laid down since those events to be sacrificed in vain. The war against enemies of our nation will do little good if we cannot heal the wounds at home. I hope and pray we can find that way to make peace before its too late.
God Bless America.
T. A. Green