I was in NYC last week on the 11th, and I approached the day cautiously, not really sure how to behave or what to expect on the tenth anniversary of an event that rocked the world, but New York especially. I looked out on the mean, scrappy city and felt a tenderness for it, sympathy for its re-opened wound.
Although I felt like I really should visit a cathedral or host a memorial brunch or at least observe a moment of candlelit silence, I had the rare opportunity of going shopping with my daughter, and I grabbed it.
The mall in Columbus Circle was teeming with shoppers. But just outside J.Crew, there was an exhibit of six-foot photos of firefighters, then and now, with video interviews. We paused. Elizabeth, who was 12 in 2001, stared, listened and went with it, recalling a letter of gratitude she had written back then to some first responders. She seemed to feel, maybe for the first time in her young adult life, that emotional connection to an historical event that comes only from having been present for it. She’d witnessed and was shaken by 9/11, so she owns a piece of it.
We shook ourselves loose from the exhibit and went to J. Crew for some retail therapy, but it was hard get a shopping buzz going. All those stacks of sweaters seemed stunningly irrelevant. We hit the streets.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows were covered with the long lists of all those Americans killed on 9/11. Elizabeth found the name of her friend Carrie’s sister who had worked at the World Trade Center. Elizabeth was riveted, eyes stuck on the name. When she had written that letter to the firefighters, she’d had no idea a future friendship would bring her a little closer to the horrors of that day.
In spite of the pervasive sadness of the afternoon, we managed to buy Elizabeth some caramel colored boots (the Banana Republic was having a killer sale) and then went back to her apartment, where her boyfriend was on the couch watching football, right where we’d left him. The Packers were duking it out, a second pizza was en route, there was talk of going to a movie.
As I observed the details of my daughter’s life, I thought how that life has been irrevocably shaped by events large and small, and how precious it is.