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Michael Tomasky

 

After the towers fell, old friends in Morgantown started

 

 

calling: Are you safe? Where were you when it happened? Did you — here, they

 

 

often paused, barely able to comprehend the thought — see it?

 

 

To that last one, yes. I live in Brooklyn, just across the

 

 

harbor from lower Manhattan, and after the second tower was struck, I walked a

 

 

few blocks to a small waterfront park near a hospital, where I and 50 or so of

 

 

my fellow New Yorkers watched as the first tower collapsed. At that point, it

 

 

became obvious to us that the second would, too, eventually; I actually began

 

 

to get sick to my stomach, and decided I didn't want to see it live. I walked

 

 

home. The prevailing winds that day were southeasterly, which is to say, right

 

 

at me, and by the time I got to my apartment — say, six minutes — my arms were

 

 

covered in ash.

 

 

All the clichés about national unity, about Americans

 

 

discarding their usual animosity toward New York and agreeing that we'd become

 

 

one people, were, at the time, true. My childhood friends, Stuey and Goose and

 

 

the others, were every bit as shaken as I was. In the larger world, Southern

 

 

conservative senators not previously known for their enthusiasm for sending

 

 

money to New York City ponied up; staffers for Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions

 

 

brought Hillary Clinton's people sandwiches and helped them answer phones. And

 

 

New Yorkers themselves, in their horror and anger, were united, which even from

 

 

the vantage point of Charleston you can guess is not something that happens

 

 

often.

 

 

Now? The cliché still gets plenty of air time — under

 

 

circumstances like these, the mass media want to establish a story line that is

 

 

  • oothing (and that will get ratings). But the truth that I see and feel as I
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    watch the political process and maneuver around this city is different. When

     

     

    President Bush blocks a $5.1 billion spending package, some of which was for

     

     

    improved communications equipment for New York firefighters, it's hardly going

     

     

    out on a limb to observe that the usual push-and-pull of domestic politics has

     

     

    reasserted itself. And as far as New Yorkers are concerned, well, obviously,

     

     

    those who lost a loved one or who experienced the terror first-hand still must

     

     

    feel tremendous pain. But as for the rest of us, the attacks are no longer the

     

     

  • tuff of daily or weekly conversation, and in my experience haven't been for
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  • ome time.
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    Given the constant media drumbeat — there are several 9/11

     

     

  • tories in the New York papers every day — one feels it's somehow wrong, or at
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    least impolite, to suggest that things might be more or less back to normal.

     

     

    But I argue the opposite: Normalcy is good, and needed. The press of life makes

     

     

    demands of us, a vital one of which is that we survive and carry on. It also

     

     

    permits us our peculiarities, and among those, surely, is the truth that all of

     

     

    us heal in our own ways. One man remarries three months after his wife dies;

     

     

    another mourns for five years. The latter is no nobler than the former. It's

     

     

    just that they came out of the womb with different emotional equipment, which

     

     

    they put to use as best they can.

     

     

    So it has been in New York this past year. At first, the

     

     

    attacks represented a single, shared tragedy; a great civic cataclysm. But as

     

     

    time has passed, it has come to feel as though New Yorkers have reacted to the

     

     

    event more personally; now, there is not so much one overarching narrative as

     

     

    there are 8 million individual ones. Which means two things. First, that we

     

     

    have, on some level, gotten back to normal, and second, that there is no

     

     

    consensus yet about how the attacks affected us (evidence for this can be found

     

     

    in the robust arguments over what to build — or not — on the World Trade Center

     

     

  • ite, a debate mired in a bureaucratic death struggle with which New Yorkers
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    are all too familiar, which is itself a sign of normalcy).

     

     

    I still think, occasionally, of that ash on my arms, or my old

     

     

    friends' phone calls that day. And when I see an airplane over the skyline, I

     

     

    tend to watch it for five or six seconds, just to make sure it seems to be

     

     

    doing what airplanes are supposed to do. But otherwise, I enjoy this

     

     

    remarkable, strange, stressful, beautiful place, and I believe that enjoying it

     

     

    is the best thing all of us, New Yorkers and visitors, can do for it.

     

     

    Morgantown native Michael Tomasky is a columnist for New York

     

     

    magazine.

     

     


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