Folding Anniversaries into History
This year marks the 15th since the horrors of 9/11. I find it hard to believe in every way.
Months ago, while leafing through archived newsletters, I came across one from September 2001. On the front page (reproduced below), the Block Association's newsletter editors poignantly acknowledged what had just transpired. Presumably that box was added just as the newsletter was going to press.
Seeing it brought back a flood of memories, mostly of the surreality the city was going through and of the mourning. There was an impromptu gathering at the Firemen's Memorial on W. 100th Street and Riverside Drive, recently renovated, I recall. That must have been on the Friday evening following black Tuesday. But I could be wrong. There, I remember a sea of candles and flowers surrounding the memorial. Incredulous neighbors huddled together. We didn't know then that there was more to come with the terrorizing anthrax attacks -- prolonged and destabilizing. In hindsight, it all seems insurmountable. But then think of all the similar tragedies that have come since, in unending succession, constantly challenging people to surmount the insurmountable.
What strikes me about this newletter piece from the archives is the simple, elegant message on the newsletter's front page. In it, we have what the French call a "témoin" -- a witness or a telltale -- of what we needed and sought. It's a window to the past that reminded me that for a moment in New York, all was local -- the way Tip O'Neill meant "all politics is local." Time stopped and New York belonged just to New Yorkers. And we comforted each other.
The juxtaposition of this box with the article beneath it about happier news -- the celebration of this organization's 30th anniversary -- is apt in the sense that the block association is and has been a catalyst for community-building. I did the uncomplicated math: turning 30 in 2001 makes the block association 45 this year. Wrap your head around that in an era where the lifespan of a new gadget is roughly 24 months, and when Broadway retailers are turning over at a dizzying rate. But the block association endures.
The organizers of the block association saw fit to mark the 30th by feting our neighborhood history and its preservation. In the 2001 article, neighbor and history buff, Ginger Lief, rolled out an incredible grassroots-driven archive at the New York Public Library, and I know that Win Armstrong was an engine of this effort as well. It inspires me that neighbors care so much about what came before...and perhaps also about what is still to come and how to shape it for the better.
I don't know when it happened. Was it the completion of the new WTC tower or the memorial that has become a tourist destination. Or the advent of the Oculus. But somehow between the 10th and 15th anniversaries, in my mind 9/11 has folded into that history. It makes me feel like Rip Van Winkle that we now have neighbors who were in junior high school back on that terrible day who are discovering the story of what so many of us lived through now that New York is their home.
So, today, memories turn back 15 years. To the lives lost. And to the lives affected. And to how the challenge soldered our city together.
Thoughts project forward to the next 45 in our neighborhood. May we never have to share a day like that day in September again. But if we do, rest assured that the comfort and compassion will flow.