It's a chilly, dreary, grey day. An endless rain comes down on New York, as if on cue. Completely unlike that cruelly ironic sunny Tuesday - ah, we've all gone through this so many times. Eight times, at least, right?

For the last couple of days, watching the calendar tick toward this anniversary, my strongest feeling had been relief that, for the first time in a couple of years, I would not be spending 9/11 downtown. Last year, and the year before that, I'd been working in a building right adjacent to Ground Zero; just about every day, I had to direct tourists to what the Onion had dubbed the "World Trade Center Memorial Hole," wondering what the hell they could get from posing next to a big, empty construction site. It got that much worse on 9/11 itself, when the streets became clogged with policemen and gawkers, their numbers dwarfing the actual mourners into relative insignificance.

So I was glad I would be nowhere near there today, but, surprisingly - or perhaps not - it still feels the same. Still the same sense of grief and anger and frustrated impotence. And, strangely, a vague wish to be there, downtown, feeling whatever it is I feel.

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing John Mann of Spirit of the West perform in small, intimate concert. One of my favorite songs of the show was "Nothing Ever Dropped," about the relatively uneventful nature of his generation's formative years.

"Nothing ever dropped
Nothing ever fell
Nothing dropped and left a deep impression
No great war, no great depression."

For better or worse, this was The Event of my generation. The towers dropped, and everything changed.

I remember that morning, of course. I was sleeping in, as usual, in my dorm room on the Upper West Side, miles away from the financial district. I woke to my mother's phone call shortly past 9 a.m. - "terrorists had attacked New York." Unfortunate choice of words; for a second, I thought we were literally being attacked, as in, they were marching into the city, and instinctively looked out the window. Nope, all quiet.

And then, we turned on our TVs and our radios and began running to one another's rooms. And cell phones weren't working and loved ones weren't accounted for, people couldn't get home, couldn't get through, and all hell was breaking loose.

It was Howard Stern who told me the towers had fallen, actually. I was surfing radio stations, trying to get more information, when I landed on his voice - "Oh my God, it's going to fall. Oh my God, there it goes." For a minute, I actually felt pissed off - this is NOT something to fucking joke about, Howard, I thought pissily, and then switched stations, only to realize it was not a fucking joke.

This has all been told before. I've never liked going over it. I was lucky - I lost no one. I had one friend working in WTC and he had been late to work that day. I didn't even lose my sense of security, really - I've always been the kind who figures, your time comes when it comes, and no sense in trying to outrun it; so I never started fearing planes or tall buildings or large gatherings that could become targets. And I never wanted to be one of those who milks the I-Was-There moments for a story.

I wasn't there. I have no good reason to climb on a soapbox; my story is the same one you'd hear from any other of the millions of people who were in NYC that day.

My loss is the same loss everyone feels - the skyline, mainly. You never really get over it. Not really. You never look at the skyline without noticing the big, gaping hole where the towers - love the architecture or not - had stood.

The immediate aftermath of 9/11 was a somewhat complicated thing - initially, there really was that incredible feeling of community, of union. On September 14, most of my university turned out for a candlelight vigil on campus; we sang songs of peace, some people made speeches, and then, a bunch of us walked downtown. As we walked, others joined us; at one point, someone joined in who was holding an enormous American flag, and we walked along and sang beneath the gently wind-wafted banner. The cabbies - the New York cabbies, for God's sakes - stopped to let us pass, even when they had the light. The oceanic feeling was strong, as Freud would have said - but, guaranteed, had he been there, he'd have been lost in it too.

The cinematic moments were nice, but they didn't last; and that's a good thing. New Yorkers are, contrary to popular belief, pretty good, compassionate people for the most part, but we're not built for small-town sweetness, and there was a slight sense of relief when things went back to normal and cabbies started gunning their engines at you again. Rough normalcy is better than soft grief.

That wasn't the complicated part - that came later, when the world seemed to divide into hawks and doves, neo-cons and bleeding heart liberals. Everyone's politics came out. In fact, a lot of things came out, and some of them weren't pretty. I lost a good friend, and I am pretty sure a big reason for that was the difference in our responses to what had happened.

It's been a long time. So long, sometimes it's hard to remember (for me, anyway; I was not quite 20 on 9/11/01) a time before Afghanistan and Iraq were in every other headline, before everyone was arguing about what was right and wrong, and what the government should or shouldn't be doing. Before all the buzzwords - "domestic security," "terrorism," "Guantanamo" - became part of our everyday vernacular. The wars may be far away from us geographically, but they've become a permanent fixture in our consciousness. And, sometimes, I wonder when it will end - but only sometimes, because, in the last 8 years, it's become hard to imagine a world without it.

I'm not promoting a "crunchy" ideal of peace - I know better. Peace is nice, it's great, it's a wonderful ideal, but there will never really be peace in the world; just relative lulls in the violence and brief respites of ignorance in certain media regions. But I do sometimes wonder what we'd all be like if the last 8 years had been quieter.

Well, maybe we wouldn't be different at all; who really knows.

I've never been of the school who tries to find a "bright side" in tragedy. I don't believe the Holocaust was "good" for Jewish identity, and I don't believe industrial accidents are "good" for future knowledge, and I sure as hell don't think there was anything good about a bunch of psychopaths flying planes into buildings. (Especially considering the current state of airline security, but that's another blog.)

But every year, trudging through the pervasive misery of this hideous anniversary, there is, at least, the promise (whether it will be kept or not) of 9/12. There is always a tomorrow, until there isn't (and if there isn't, you won't be there to care). There is always the prospect of future normalcy - where the cabbies scream obscenities even if you ARE wearing an American flag; where airplane seats are sold out; where tall buildings are being built with no thought of planes flying into them.

Some call it carelessness or heedlessness. I say, be careless. Be heedless. Live. The legacy of past tragedies should not be fear; rather, I believe it should be a casual but sincere gratitude for every day of normalcy. The sky is blue, or will be tomorrow. The sun will rise and set, turning the clouds purple and gold. Someone will kiss you or smile at you or try to feel you up. A dog will lick your face, or maybe just refrain from biting your ankle.

Remember; mourn; grieve; be angry if you feel angry. Be whatever you are, but don't forget the simple joy of ordinary days. Ultimately, if there was anything we collectively lost after 9/11 it was the ordinariness of ordinary days - days with no headlines or death tolls or urgent news reports from abroad. All the more reason to appreciate them when they come around.


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