This hasn’t been an easy week for me. Every year around September 11, I keep thinking that I’ll be able to function normally. It’s nine years later and…well, I’m just not entirely okay. Things do get better, but I know that I’ll always feel this way. Because we will never forget.
Keeping busy helps. This month has been crazy busy for me, the kind of busy where hours zip by and you’re like, “How is it 6:00 already? Wasn’t it just 1:30?!” Getting together with friends also helps. My friend David Levithan had a picnic on his birthday. It was one of those perfect summer nights where everyone wants to be outside. We were all supposed to bring something to eat or drink. This one guy brought a pineapple. As in, a whole pineapple. The pineapple sat on the picnic blanket, looking festive but I’m sure feeling less optimistic as the night progressed. When only a few of us were left, it was clear to the pineapple that he would remain intact. I asked the guy who brought the pineapple, “What were you…envisioning?” He said, “Someone with a serrated knife?” The funniest part was that, apparently, someone had been at the party with a serrated knife. Guess they didn’t see the pineapple.
The party was in a park near Ground Zero. As it got darker, I watched the Tribute in Light reaching way up into the sky. It was powerful to be there with the author of Love Is the Higher Law, which documented September 11 so accurately I kept forgetting I was reading fiction. You know how it feels like some books are speaking directly to you? David’s book was like that. He included all of the events and emotions that had the most impact on me. Those low-flying military planes in the following months that made me think, Here we go again, every time I heard one. Groups of Missing posters everywhere. Relentlessly listening to the radio, waiting for them to tell us something new. That smell in the air I’ll never forget. And my obsession with getting as close as possible to the Tribute in Light.
My friend Stephen and I were supposed to be at the top of one Tower on the evening of September 11, 2001. Time is the only thing that saved us that day. Stephen has visited almost every year since so we can walk down to Ground Zero. We just feel this need to recreate the walk we never took. And get close to the Tribute in Light. To us, the lights symbolize hope. Getting close to them is my way of keeping hope alive.
At first, the lights were positioned near the footprints of the Towers. From a distance, the Tribute looks like two towers of blue light. But each light tower is composed of about 40 individual light streams. This is what they looked like up close in 2004:
Then the lights moved to a rooftop right near Ground Zero. There was no access to that roof, so we snuck up to the next roof to get close to them. Me with the lights in 2007:
After that, the lights were moved to a bridge a few blocks away. We were told that there was no way to get close to them. But of course that didn’t stop us (long story involving a parking garage, an elevator, and a friendly neighbor). This time, there were other people at the top in charge of the lights. They let us get closer than we’ve ever been, but only for a few seconds. It was incredible.
Tomorrow we’ll walk down again. We’ll get close to the lights. We’ll see how the rebuilding process is coming along. And, most importantly, we’ll remember.