Friday, February 24, 2006
Steamed dumplings in Chinatown, wonderful shoes cheap at Century 21, a long crisp walk in the bright winter air---our first day in New York was a whole menu of only-in-New-York experiences. Mostly, I like to walk along the sidewalks with the people as they scurry around, dispatching their day's duties. New York is an international city, full of the world's people and as an American, I am always struck by the privilege of being in this full evolved Dutch/English outpost. Who knew.
I'm from North Idaho, where I think we have a certain academic understanding of freedom. So much of our life here is doing what we want, by virtue of the large amounts of heretofore available land and opportunities. We come and go exactly as we please and that makes the idea of freedom somewhat vague, if largely undefined, to many of us here. We cannot feature a life where you can't attend the church you want or assemble freely or bear the particular arms you desire or express yourself fully, if you are so inclined. Because of the limited infrastructure here, we survive on our own much of the time, are highly self-reliant and endorse utilitarianism, the great American philosophy.
So the loss of freedom we have experienced since 9/11 always hits me hard when I visit New York City. Can't go up in Lady Liberty anymore, my absolute favorite American icon. Big, intimidating concrete tank barriers around all federal buildings and entire streets still blocked off. Can't stroll along Wall Street and forget about wandering in to the stock exchange. The world's flags no longer fly in front of the UN. Two lane streets in front of synogogues and temples suddenly are one lane, for the concrete barriers placed in the street to protect the buildings. And the people who might be inside. During the Republican convention there were gunnery boats with multiple mounted guns on the East River. Don't see those these days but do see many, many guards everywhere with guns and gas masks.
Went to Ground Zero to pay our respects again; can't say too many prayers for the innocent, unarmed victims of war who were murdered there and so it was very difficult to have a protest show up. Group of folks came with signs and chants claiming that 9/11 was a Black Ops campaign, carried out by the US military. They made much noise and handed out pamphlets and were actually hurt and offended when I told them, quietly, to get the hell out of there. I was so viciously and bitterly angry. The new Building 7 is just about finished and the site of Towers 1 and 2 has been largely sanitized now, with all the tangible remains of destruction removed to storage. I still grieve and cannot come to terms with the unfinished days of the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters that died on that beautiful September morning. A loss that will never be fully defined.
And so this is what it is to be an American these days. No real answers here, only sadness. But gladness, too, for the tough, brittle, beautiful New Yorkers, who welcome one and all. Who go about the business of living and taking care of their families with strength and ambition, humor and resolve. It's all been said before and maybe my favorite comes from a native New Yorker, Sarah Jessica Parker: “They say life's what happens when you're busy making other plans. But sometimes in New York, life is what happens when you're waiting for a table.”
The 'Kan EWA