I Sit And Look Out: In hindsight, Sept. 11 seems more like a faded memory

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Many years ago, I read that some psychologists believed that after a certain time, people do not remember something. Rather they said people remembered remembering.

Can it be eight years since the murders of Sept. 11, 2001? How do we remember that horrible day?

My wife, Elaine, is an amateur cellist. On that late summer day, I took her cello to the car parked in our driveway in Richmond Hill. She went to Deer Park to play for several hours with other chamber musicians. That was about 8:30 a.m.

I was reading the paper and having a cup of coffee and decided to call friends in Forest Hills. I had not been watching television or listening to the radio. When Gabby answered the call, she could hardly speak. She was crying. She was watching the start of the horror the murderers were wreaking upon the World Trade Center.

I called and finally reached Elaine. The musicians had heard the news. Elaine started to come home. It took many hours, as government officials responded to the horror by closing roads.

Late that day, a long-time friend, a Flushing native who lives in an apartment opposite City Hall, decided to leave his apartment. He got to the subway at Canal Street and reached us that afternoon. He stayed with us for several days. He was allowed back in his apartment for the first time for only 15 minutes a few days later.

A dear friend from San Francisco had arranged to visit us in late September. Part of her visit was an automobile trip we planned in the Hudson River valley. She came despite the catastrophe. I remember when we reached FDR’s home in Hyde Park, L.I., the ranger asked us where we came from. There was a hush as Elaine and I and our friend Charles Ahlers told them we were from New York City. The silent outreach of the other visitors was palpable.

I had purchased a ticket for a matinee performance at the City Opera Sept. 15. The season was to open Sept. 11, but the performance I attended was the first. Before the performance of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” the entire company of the City Opera came out on stage and the audience rose for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I doubt there was a dry eye anywhere in that auditorium. The performance was superb. The hate of the murderers would not — could not — overcome the glory of the music.

Several weeks later, I went to a meeting in lower Manhattan at about 9 a.m. on a weekday and was shocked to see so few people on the streets. It was like that the afternoon I walked up Fifth Avenue from the subway to the City Opera. The city was almost a ghost town.

But how soon the solidarity of shared grief left us. A lying president deflected us from a campaign against al-Qaida to a useless war in Iraq, where over 4,300 American men and women have died and tens of thousands more have been wounded in body and spirit. Meanwhile, the terrorists have flourished in Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan. I have given up trying to count the dead from Queens — long ago I left it at over several dozen.

We went to war in Iraq for nothing. There were no weapons of mass destruction there. There was no connection with al-Qaida. There was no connection with the murders of Sept. 11.

We have tortured and lied about torturing. What does this say about our national mores?

At Ground Zero we seem to have a never-ending lack of progress. Will the memorial be built in time to mark 10 years? Part of it may be completed, but not all. Will the new transportation center ever see the light of day? The latest estimate for its opening is 2014.

Will the commercial towers ever be built? Should they be built now or later, considering the uncertain economic future? All we seem to get are dueling press releases from the Port Authority and other players. Greed and the battle for political turf seem to have overtaken any sense of cooperation.

Our new Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, said this in a 2003 lecture: “It takes a tragedy like Sept. 11 to remind us that the differences we project onto others and which so often alienate us from each other are superficial and not terribly meaningful. On Sept. 11, we stood as Americans and as human beings and saw past our ethnic differences and responded to a common threat with a complete giving of heart, soul and, for some, of life.”

The murders of Sept. 11 changed our lives and those of every person on this planet.

Do I truly remember that day of horror, or do I remember remembering?

What are your memories of Sept. 11, eight years to the day, tomorrow?

Posted 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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