September 11: Ground Zero Blueprint for a New Day
A close-up view of "ground zero" gave me a perspective that will live with me for the rest of my life. But beyond the all-pervading sights, sounds and smells, and senses which were shocked into the actuality of what really happened on September 11, 2001, I knew that New York City, the country and indeed the world would never again be the same. For I felt it. Call it "clairsentience," the sensation was unmistakable; the physical remnants only underscored it.
Just over three weeks after the day the world changed, I accompanied my husband, an attorney and telecommunications engineer, on a business trip to New York City and to one of his appointments in the same lower Manhattan vicinity, merely five blocks away from where terror struck. As former residents of the New York City area, we created emotional ties there, which we promised would never be severed. And so, we felt it necessary to see with our own eyes the aftermath of this cataclysmic event in three dimensions that rocked our beloved city. For it was still hard to believe this tragedy was "real." That was until we arrived on the scene.
As we left Hudson Street, following my husband's business appointment, we walked briskly toward the south, aiming for the hub of despair and devastation that once boasted the illuminated center of economic sovereignty. Block after block we gained sobering reminders of what had happened and what we were about to see. Small groups of people were scattered along the sidewalks, wandering somewhat tentatively in the same direction, rarely conversing with one another. They walked mostly with their heads down, sporadically glancing upward and to the right, wanting to see what once stood massive before them. New York's finest were poised on every corner, stiff and clad in frowns and sadness, arms folded, obviously tense and tired. As we got closer, streets and sidewalks were wet as if a fresh rain had just passed through, but what was in actuality the residue of the frequent hose-downs needed to clear the pavements of the still collecting ash and debris that would occasionally blow its way onto the streets. A faint smell became apparent. And with several more steps, the smell became a wicked stench. I knew we were getting closer. Little street traffic was present. Here instead it seemed we were approaching a "war zone." Several firefighters zoomed by in a golf cart with "FDNY" spray painted in orange on the front, heading toward ground zero. As we neared the zone we were stiffly greeted by yards and yards of "Rent-A-Fence," which lined the perimeters of the sidewalks, yet another sign that this event caught everyone by surprise, and that the city workers had to hustle to get such hardware in place for a long arduous process. As the fence rounded the corner, so did we. Several more steps told us we had just about arrived.
Fear and trepidation threatened to take over me as we got closer, but I vowed I would be brave. After all, I was just witnessing the aftermath – nothing compared to the terror and shock that gripped those present on 9/11. And then something caught me off guard. Just as I thought I was approaching the scene at ground zero, much to my surprise, it approached me!
There we stood on the corner of Murray and Greenwich Streets, one short block north of the destruction, its conspicuous mass in clear view. Several others had gathered, perched along the rent-a-fence, silent and staring. We joined them. I looked and out of my mouth wanted to come, "Oh, good God," but instead no sound emerged. The other senses were taking over. I was stricken with what lay before me. I could not move. Never in my life had I seen such a huge conglomeration of steel, glass, concrete and humans, all gravely twisted together in a monstrous pile that stood easily at ten to fifteen stories on a sharp and tenuous slope. Several centers of smoke still billowed in a relentless stream. Cranes and tractors atop the "pile" working hard at what I was unofficially told was now "a recovery and removal effort." I simply could not believe my eyes. It was roughly 4:00pm. The westward sun shined down on this massive stuff and barely reflected off the dusty window panes of a building that once could not be seen from our vantage point prior to the attacks: One Liberty Plaza. It was now an unobstructed sight. What was also clear was a slight dent in that building where it looked like it might eventually buckle and fall. I was also told that this structure could eventually be brought down. My husband commented, "My God, I've stood on this block many times and could never see One Liberty and now I can." A tear trickled down his face accompanying his comment.
Shortly thereafter, I heard the click of a camera and a flash seen in my peripheral vision. A police officer on detail, guarding the entrance to the pile yelled to an onlooker in our direction, "NO cameras, mister. Didn't I tell you?" The officer was seething mad and I felt his every emotion. Had I come down to ground zero to just witness the ruins or perhaps to share a kind word with someone who sorely needed it? I didn't know prior to my visit. I chose the latter.
I called over to the officer from across the street and motioned for him to come over. He did. And as I started to give him what I had planned to be a few kind and encouraging words, I lost my composure and broke down in tears. Just having him near, anxious to hear what it was I had to say filled me with emotion. It was like his being in close proximity to me allowed him to merge his aura of energy with mine. I literally picked up his feelings. When I finally regained some composure I was able to articulate my sentiment. But, "Are you okay?" was all I could think to ask at first. Yet look who was breaking down? Before his response, my eyes welled up again. A heartfelt exchange finally ensued. After he explained the whys of the "no cameras" edict, due in part to the fact that this was still a crime scene and moreover an area of personal sensitivity, he poured his heart out. I asked him how long he had been at ground zero.
"Well, since 9/12."
"We're with you. We care, and thank you," I uttered.
He then gave a faint yet unmistakable smile and said, "Thanks for letting me talk, for letting me vent. I really needed that."
For the brief but poignant time that the officer and I engaged in sentiment, the stench seemed momentarily suspended, even the earsplitting sounds of tractors preparing to re-enter the pile for another round, the dump trucks parading by every five or so minutes with another load of twin towers debris and the buzzing of golf carts transporting groups of workers from FEMA, the Red Cross, military personnel and other organizations became only background noise as I carried on my exchange with this still grief stricken officer.
After we said our good-byes and exchanged last glances, my senses returned to the moment. The stench of fumes, now entering my throat with a slight sting was something I could no doubt feel. But that was not all I felt. For in that space was an abysmal energy that also permeated my being – an energy shift of sorts, a realization that went well beyond the sights, sounds and smells at ground zero and undergirded the surface of the physical reality at hand. When I was in its midst, it blended with me, a feeling I still struggle to fully explain for it was subtle yet profound. Something vast changed on September 11, 2001; something shifted, never to return to its former position. It was not the people and places nor the absence of the twin tower structures, per se, that denoted this change, but that of a tonal vibration that simply revealed an irreversible alteration had commenced, a blueprint for a new day.
My husband and I glimpsed the pile one last time before turning and walking at a slow solemn pace, arm-in-arm, outward and upward toward the north and away from ground zero. Still unable to speak but a few words, we only glanced at each other with a look of pensiveness. As the smell slowly dissipated with each step northward, so did our presence at Murray and Greenwich, for it would be adjusting to a new presence all its own – the reality shift of change which began on the otherwise clear and sun filled morning of September 11, 2001.
Alexis Brooks is a freelance writer of the spiritual-metaphysical genre. She lives with her husband Derek in Lexington, Massachusetts.