Another year, and we remember


This is the view from the window next to my desk.  From that window, I took the photo that was the first masthead for this blog (it’s in the page on “the blog” if you want to take a look).

This was the view last night, from the ground, at the corner of 6th Avenue and Union Street in Brooklyn.


My downstairs neighbor, Sarah, took that photo, and I saw it on her Flickr.

For the last three years, I have engaged a small ritual on or about September 11, when I can see the beams of light from Ground Zero over downtown from this window.

I turn out the lights.  I sit for a few minutes, 10 minutes or so.  My son is asleep in the next room, or maybe he’s at his mom’s apartment, just a few blocks away in the neighborhood.  Either way, he’s safe, while I gaze at the lights.  Irony is not the word for this.

I know my fate.  One day my name will be associated with a memory of something tremendous—a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far … Where you see ideals, I see what is human, alas, all too human.

Nietzsche’s words stream through my mind as I look at the beams and write my friends—

The clouds have cleared now and I have turned off the lights.  I just want to look out at the beams of light streaming up to the heavens.  So strange to think of the world before that day, and the world we have now.  And it made me feel like reaching out to a few people who matter to me.  I hope you’re all well.

As it happens, I never have taken a photo of the 9.11 beams from this window.  Tonight I will try, but I fear it’s going to be cloudy.  That’s unfortunate, because over the last couple of years, the view was so spectacular, iconic – and this year, 2009, will be my last at this window.  I will be moving at the end of September, to a new apartment in “Prospect Park South” which is the trendy name for what has often been called “Kensington” or simply “Flatbush” in the local dialect.

As all things happen, however, Providence gives us what we need, and Sarah’s photo from last night is such a gift.  So:  Thank you much to Sarah for this photo.  To all those who have touched my life, or whom I have touched in any way however small, I say this,

Be well and cherish those whose love you share.  We have no way to change what was, and our attempts to shape what will be never have their intended effect.  Where we are absolute, however, is the moment at hand.  Let us live that moment well, with love, and with all the peace that the world so deeply needs.  Only then do we stand a chance against the forces of darkness.  Strange as it may seem, those are pretty good odds.

Notes and Credits

Sarah’s photo:

The precise address of our building is 211 Sixth Avenue.  Or the Union Market, at 754 Union Street, Brooklyn.  11215.

The quote from Nietzsche was taken from the opening of the BBC documentary of him, which can be seen here.  See also this and this.

My own quoted email was what I sent in 2007, the first year I sat at this window.  I cannot find last year’s email, which was a little more focused.  My three years of having this view have been important to me, because this window was a starting-over in many ways.  I will miss the view – but mostly I will hold dear the fact that I have the chance to have this view for a little while.  I only hope that the folks who come next to this little apartment are able to appreciate it as well.

Personal Note

I moved to New York in May of 2004.  In 2001, I was in Rock Island, Illinois, teaching at Augustana College.  On that particular day, I was in my office early.  Jane, who was the secretary for the departments of History and Political Science, came running down the long hallway to my office – we might have been the only two people on the floor.  She told me that I needed to come to the television and see what happened.  Her husband had called and said that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  Jane and I watched the rest of it happen, in a conference room on the campus of Augustana College which from its own window had a wonderful view of the Mississippi River and America’s own “heartland” on the border of Illinois and Iowa.  We saw the second plane crash into the other tower, and we saw the buildings fall to the ground, all live.  In my office, I heard about the plane crashing into the Pentagon, live.  I was very afraid.  My wife was out of town, and she was very possibly pregnant with our child (we had this confirmed just weeks after 9.11).  My country was under attack.

I don’t know if folks in New York know what it was like to experience 9.11 outside of this city.  It was pretty dreadful.   Nothing like here, of course, but awful nonetheless.  For a little while, we had no idea where this would lead, and everyone feared bombs and flames and explosions.

A few weeks later, November 10-12, 2001, we were in New York.  My wife had some meetings and I was along for the ride and the visit.  We knew then that our child would be expected some time in May or June.  I had some good runs in the city, in Central Park, along the avenues, but not on the West Side Highway.  It was blocked, for security reasons.  As we prepared to leave on the 12th, we heard odd news suddenly:  all the bridges and tunnels were closed, and so were the airports.  A plane had crashed in Queens.

Downstairs, we spoke to the hotel personnel.  The looks on their faces and the emotions in the air are emblazoned on my mind, in a way that makes me think of my parents’ generation when they talk about what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated.  I won’t forget that.


Filed under danger, death, existentialism, ideas, philosophy, politics, truth, Uncategorized, war

6 responses to “Another year, and we remember

  1. John – thanks for this; there is still the need to remember. A friend today reminded me of an old email I’d sent him the morning after, and I excerpt it today on my blog: I shall never forget the day and how this mighty metropolis both stopped and started. Five years later, in September 2006, the historian Ric Burns told me, in an interview, the following about 9/11: “People will say it’s incredible, how this seismic event on the threshold of the 21st century marked the difference between one epoch and another.We were trangely, blissfully unaware of how we occurred to others in the world. I can’t think of another moment in history that has that quality of literally ripping open the surface of things.”

  2. micehell

    John, such profound heartfelt sentiments and sharing on your part, thank you.

    I’ll never forget sitting on the couch with my young girls in my lap, trying to explain to them why I was crying and why exactly that plane crashed into the south tower. I didn’t know. I still don’t understand on a fundamental human level…

    I’ll never forget listening to a man calling his wife from his cell phone in the north tower, afraid, knowing that the stairwells were blocked off & wondering how the hell he was going to get down… and yet again, trying to understand how someone expecting an average day could find themselves roiling with every human emotion he had in his being.

    When I think of how sudden things can turn around in a person’s life – I never forget friends like you, John.

    Keep on rockin’ & groovin’, babe. 🙂 xo

  3. Thank you John for sending this heartfelt reminder to me. It doesn’t feel like the incident happened too long ago yet having spent a year visiting schools I became painfully aware of the many children who have no recollection of these events. Some too young to remember, some so young they haven’t even been born.

    I am proud to call myself a New Yorker, especially so in 2001. After 9/11 our iconic tough, NYC attitude melted away. As horrified as the events were it a moment where we were beautifully united. The tough exterior may now be in tact, the seemingly impossible happened. In the most cut throat city in the world, New Yorkers proudly stood together displaying generosity and love for one another inspiring a global outpouring of love and support.

    Every year it seems easier to forget. This post evoked for me, precious moments after 9/11 where strangers stopped to help strangers. Where we treated one another as people rather than the categorical client/co-worker, family/friend. We empathized with one another and found deep down, even New Yorkers are gentle teddy bears, sweet and kind, capable of irrepressible displays of affection. I treasure this memory immensely. Thank you John for the reminder.

  4. Hello,
    I found you blog on, and I have been perusing your posts. This post in particular really touched me, how it felt to watch from the outside, the numbing ignorance of what was unfolding the knowledge that we were witnessing a profound shift in our knowledge of the world, that nothing would ever be the same.

    Comparing it to Kennedy’s assassination, a moment in time that everyone who is old enough to remember can bring to the forefront immediately, is probably the best way to place 9-11 in context.

    Thank you.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I felt it was very special to live in that apartment and have that view every year, so sharing it just seemed like the right thing to do.

  5. Pingback: Another year and we remember, 2010 « truth and rocket science

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