Image In a Dark Stairwell, On a Long Runway
as if it would not be possible to let this go until the
images stopped running in my head... and that would not be
possible until I could reduce the whole thing... the entire
thing... (the pentagon, the four planes, the north tower,
the south tower, the people jumping, the towers falling, the
firemen, the pilots with throats slashed)... the whole thing
had to come down to one image... and it had to be a Good one
for me to move on. It had to be an image that captured the
voice of God amidst the wreckage.
after about 2 weeks was I finally able to construct the image...
and where the image occurred... and to write about it... and,
finally, to call ONLY on that ONE image whenever I was reminded
In a Dark Stairwell, On a Long Runway
float at the base of the World Trade Center. Their cross sections
were not square: they were in the shape of a square with the
four corners cut off. And the towers came straight down to
the ground with no pedestal to stand on.
could literally walk right up to each tower; you could put
your chest up against the shaved-off wide, flat surface of
what was the corner, tilt your head way back, and feel like
you were standing on the edge of a huge runway. God! what
a powerful feeling that was! The effect of standing up and
having your head at an angle gave this feeling of weightlessness
while standing on a runway that went on forever; it was as
if any moment you would lift off and begin your ascent into
keeps returning to that day; and just when my heart stops
palpitating, and I can stop sweating, can I sublimate the
horror of being on one of those four planes; of being that
pilot or that passenger. I can relax, just for a moment, move
on, look up from my computer and (here it comes again) face
the image of being in an office and seeing a jet coming at
me at 600 miles per hour. And I can only thank God I am not
that stewardess, that pilot, that passenger or that office
worker. I am just me; I am grateful that I was where I was
on 9/11 and I feel such pain for all those who were there;
and for all those whose loved ones were there.
when I finally "let that image go", I see, next,
the people standing on the ledge of the building... jumping...
just jumping. The news images do not even capture the sound.
Were they screaming? I imagine myself falling back down the
runway just like them, and I still do not know if they were
screaming. And I never will. And I never should.
I can finally let that go, I imagine, this time now, those
left up on the building top, and I feel his majesty lean slowly
to the side; and once again come screams of the twisting steel
as those people now begin their scene, careening down the
runway, accompanied by glass
and metal and concrete. For here it comes again. When will
the images go away?
irrelevant as it may seem, comes the image of a squirrel,
minding its own business in WTC square, oblivious to stock
options, the Middle East, and all our problems... mildly wondering...
"geez, wad' is 'dat noize I hear", as it picks up
a breadcrumb, looks up, and is smashed into oblivion by over
a million tons of steel and concrete indifferent to squirrels
and flower beds.
this is part of what that horror was to me. The inability
to linger even for a second on one small minutiae of that
day. It feels like a Spielberg Movie on MethAmphetamine: speeding
and careening from one horror to the next faster than a jet
plane on a runway during takeoff.
But I finally come to rest back in my childhood.
visiting the firehouses in the Bronx. I imagine every kid
in this nation at one time or other voicing the words: "I
want to be a fireman". And at this point, my memory races
with my imagination and tries to complete a story that never
came true because, frankly, I do not know if I could ever
have the courage as those men who went right back in. I can
only say that their stories were not captured on camera (thank
God! I do not have to see courage played out on the six O'clock
news to constantly remind myself how much more work lies ahead
of me to be like them). Only those last few people who did
not make it out, holding the hand of the firemen who went
back in, and looking into each other's eyes -- those people
knew the courage of the firemen, and in that flicker of an
eye, in that moment that lasted an eternity as they held their
breath, amidst a noise so loud you could hear a pin drop --
did they become one with the same courage as they began racing
up a runway that was racing back down on them (greeting those
coming down and lifting them back up).
now, you see. So many childhood memories now culminate in
that day. So many memories are getting an ending I never could
this memory of being a child and taking photographs with visiting
uncles from another country, while standing on a Ferry, with
The Lady on the left and the Twin Towers in front of us. I
see the pictures standing there in my mind as my mind races
forward in time, now, and eclipses twenty years faster than
the buildings crush down on the secretaries, the janitors,
the single parents, the pigeon or whatever squirrel just happened
to be there at the wrong time. For I can no longer linger
in memory of being at those buildings without being fully
aware of their ultimate fate.
I will go back to NY again this Christmas. I know I will get
lost in the lower city like I usually do these years: it has
been a long time since I have lived there. Only this time
I know I will not be able to look up and figure out where
I am because those two towers will not be there to help me
by saying: "that is where you are right now (and you
still have a long way to go)".
the space will be there. But the ashes will be gone by the
time I get there. I can imagine the ashes. But what is the
point? They will all have blown away in the wind. I suppose
that is good.
time what will remain will not be the ashes, or the concrete
or the twisted steel. In time, one day, my mind will actually
be able to flicker from the horror and play the images at
speeds far in excess of 600 miles per hour, without the pain,
and move past the airplanes, the secretaries, the squirrel
and, I suppose, the firemen. For of all the racing on that
day, the descents and ascents will be still in comparison
to that one moment when humanity embraced. I hope in time
I will come to dwell on that moment of the embrace and that
look when their eyes might have met: the fireman and that
person in the darkness of a stairwell; when they heard the
rumble coming for them. I suppose then I will be able to see
that one pivotal moment when eternity became real in the body
of two people becoming one at the moment. And at that
moment when memory and imagination become one and I get this
dejaVu feeling that I am imagining a memory (or remembering
an imagination), will all the pain of that moment be supplanted
by a vision of what we are all capable of being; at that time,
maybe the wound will heal.
have moved on; some will have married, others have will have
found others; children will be born; others of us will have
died taking some memory with us.
time, when I do recall that day amidst the noise: the roar
of the engines, the ignition of jet fuel, the racing of my
heart -- as my plane takes off from San Diego on my way back
to NY at Christmas -- may I hear instead, something much quieter
(because the beauty of this sound is softer than the unfolding
petals of a rose or the opening arms of an angel beckoning
a new arrival). I suppose if I had the strength
of character, I could hear it even now from 3000 miles away
as the cranes lift the last concrete blocks and the remaining
steel beams slide past one another. It is the voice of humanity
holding two people tight in an embrace of a Compassioned Human
Love stronger than any thing we know. This voice needs no
words as one million tons of metal
softly dissolves into the earth beneath; This voice needs
no words as two spirits roar up a runway on its magnificent
ascent into heaven. This voice sees this catastrophe as just
dust in the wind. This voice, today, might only be heard by
a lady, in a harbor, holding her breath, and waiting for the
day when we all hear that same voice beckoning us to recognize
the Fireman that is possible in each one of us.
submitted on 10-06-2001 by