9/11 and the Last Regret

It wasn’t until 3:45 PM — when I went to the gym, stepped on the treadmill, and looked up at the TV — that it hit me.

I’d forgotten.

Even in New York City, a fifteen-minute ride away from the hole where the towers once stood, it had slipped my mind, and the only thing that brought it back was the NY1 coverage of cancer growth among rescue workers. I told myself that I’d just lost track of the days, I never had a reason to look at the date that day, if I’d had a regular work schedule I would have remembered. … But the fact remained, and unsettled me: I’d forgotten.

I took a pilgrimage to Ground Zero that night and walked the perimeter of that hole to atone for my sin. It was hard to see through the metal fence and orange netting that kept tourists out. I didn’t want to block the power-suited men and women walking around me. I didn’t want to see the people selling plastic twin tower models with stands that lit up and blinked pink and blue.

But I did see that Ground Zero is now a construction zone. This year for the first time, no one held a memorial service at the World Trade Center site. They held it at a nearby park instead, because Ground Zero is now filled with construction offices, pickup trucks, backhoes and trailers. New walls have risen to the level of the street, and an American flag flies from a concrete building set in the once-empty hole.

After every tragedy comes a moment when we feel almost guilty that our wounds have healed. Tennyson mourned, “O last regret, regret can die!” But he added that sorrow stays, even when the “tears are dry” and no one shows “a mark of pain.” There’s a difference between moving on and forgetting. The city — the men and women power-walking around me, the NYPD cops giving directions to tourists — has moved on, but it hasn’t forgotten. There are still flowers and messages laid beneath the words “May we never forget,” carved in bronze and set in the brick wall of the Engine Co. 10 fire station.

That night I stopped for a moment to see the memorial — two beams of light stretching above the buildings around them until they scraped the skies and were lost in the clouds. It reminded me of a cathedral steeple, drawing the eye past the concrete and cranes to where the new towers will stand, and on into heaven.

It was fitting.

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~ by stultiloquence on September 13, 2007.

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