New York is intense. So many layers of culture and history are tightly bound in such a small area that just a short list of its locations–Ellis Island, Central Park, Yankee Stadium, Times Square, Greenwich Village, and Wall Street–is overwhelming.
And then there’s Ground Zero. I returned just today from my first trip to NYC, and I will admit to some nervous tension as I trod the financial district towards the sight of the 9/11 tragedy. The feeling was likely a combination of finally witnessing the sight of such a horrific and life-changing event, as well as the gut-clenching remembrance of that day when so many thousands of Americans, some of them fellow police officers, died at the hands of terrorists. Has it been almost ten years?
When I finally arrived at Ground Zero, the vacant lot that formerly held seven buildings of the World Trade Center, I saw nothing more than a construction site. From the ashes of the Trade Center rubble we all observed on television following the attacks, a new building and a new memorial were emerging before the eyes of a mournful, curious and large crowd. The new structures included the Reflection Pond, on track to be completed in time for the ten year anniversary this September 11th, and the new skyscraper that was already pushing up into the skyline. The terrorist attacks may have knocked our country out of its usual orbit, but it seemed we were back on track.After spending some time there I moved on, putting 9/11 and Ground Zero out of my mind. But despite the distracting sights, sounds, smells and tastes of New York, the ghost of the attacks haunt this town in a very real way. There were police officers on every street and in large groups at major intersections. Vehicle barriers blocked access to crowded streets or just about any structure of significance. Video cameras were ubiquitous.
And then there was the airport on the way home. What had seemed routine on the flight out to New York now took on a surreal quality. As I removed my shoes, jackets, pocket contents, belts and (in posing for the new scanner) my dignity, for the first time I connected the dots back to Ground Zero in a direct way as well as metaphorically. At each new layer of intrusion I thought how much our country had paid for its failure to protect itself: the cost in money is more than a trillion counting the wars waged following the attacks,; the approximate cost in lives, including our soldiers, approaches 10,000; the cost in our sense of security, our privacy and our individual freedoms is, simply put, priceless.
As I finish off this piece, a bit of serendipity. News of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of our military just arrived and I couldn’t help but yell with great pleasure. As I watch the news coverage, and witness like-minded crowds of ecstatic citizens throughout the country, I am conflicted. This type of celebration, so common for us during sporting events, elections or other demonstrations of our freedoms, has been unleashed as a result of death. As much as he deserved his fate, Osama bin Laden has also cursed us with the desire to cheer someone’s death.
So be it. May he rot in hell.