Monday, September 11, 2006

Wake Us Up When September Ends

I woke up this morning and began my new routine as a New Yorker (or New Yorker-in-training). I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, got dressed, put on makeup, grabbed a breakfast bar, walked out the door, went to the train station. But normal things feel unusually amplified on days like today. Not necessarily abnormal; just different.

I got on the train, which wasn't as packed as it usually is at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. I grabbed onto a sidebar and leaned against the rear door. Directly ahead of me, sitting near the opposite end of the subway car, I immediately noticed the profile of a man who was reading today's edition of The Daily News. The entire front page was black, with the following in large, white text: 8:46, 9:03.

I looked at the flashing marquee on the ceiling of the subway car. In bold, red lights it flashed: (4) To Crown Hts-Utica ... [flash] ... The next stop is ... [flash] ... 161 St-Yankee Stad ... [flash] ... 8:18 a.m. I wondered if the thousands of people who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, were thinking right now what I think on each August 3rd morning. This year, it was this: "Three years ago today, Rickey was waking up on his last morning ... Three years ago at this moment, Rickey was still alive ... I wonder what Rickey was doing three years ago at this very second."

I don't know the exact time that Rickey died. I don't know if that would make it harder or easier. But I do know that on every August 3rd evening, I feel an emptiness that I'm sure my mind and body create in order to keep me from vividly reliving the emotions that overwhelmed me after I learned of Rickey's death. Time is a funny thing.

When I arrived in Grand Central, I proceeded upstairs to the main terminal and sat down on the staircase opposite Vanderbilt Avenue next to a man sending a text message on his cell phone and a sign that read, "Sitting on stairs is prohibited." I watched the famous clock above the information booth. It was 8:43 a.m. At this time five years ago, the passengers on the first plane knew something horrific may be inevitable, but surely they were still hopeful. In the North and South Towers, the Trade Center employees were arriving to work, going through their normal routines. I stared at the clock as it turned to 8:44 and then 8:45. Five years ago today, Grand Central probably looked just like it did now: a mass of business suits racing in zig-zagging patterns across the main terminal floor. And then it was 8:46. The hustle and bustle continued.

As Joe.My.God once so eloquently described it: Grand Central Terminal functions as the mechanical heart of midtown New York City, pumping out several thousand workers and tourists on one beat, then sucking in several thousand more on the next. The rhythms of the terminal are fascinating ... Beat ... Four thousand, inbound from New Haven ... Beat ... Three thousand, outbound to Westchester.

Then, 30 seconds later, an announcement over the loudspeaker: "It is 8:46 a.m. Please pause for a moment of silence for those who died on September 11." A few people stopped. Some even put down their briefcases. Two police officers removed their hats and lowered their heads. But the heart of Grand Central Terminal continued beating; most continued their full-speed-ahead pace. What did I expect would happen? For the world to stop? For time to stand still?

No. Life goes on. Human will is resilient. But for thousands who lost loved ones in New York City on September 11, time will stand still every year at 8:46, 9:03, 9:59 and 10:29. And I'm glad I let my world stop, too, even if only for but a moment.

1 comment:

John Tan said...

pretty sobering moment from 5 yrs ago. btw, sent you email about meeting my friend Neil.

John