A walk past Ground Zero takes the author from the darkness to the light.
Mood music for this post: “The Engine Driver” by The Decemberists:
If ever there was a day when I could relapse my way into McDonald’s to down $40 bags of junk and wash it down with four glasses of wine, this was it.
My mood took a deep dive this afternoon. And the source was the last thing I would have expected.
In New York City to give a security presentation, I walked past the World Trade Center site on my way to the my destination nearby. Gone are the rows of lit candles and personal notes that used to line the sidewalks around this place. To the naked eye it’s just another construction site people pass by in a hurry on their way to wherever.
I was pissed off at first. It wasn’t the thought of what happened here. My emotion there is one of sadness.
No, this was anger. I was pissed that people seemed to be walking by without any thought of all the people who met their death here at the hands of terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. It was almost as if the pictures of twisted metal, smoke and crushed bodies never existed.
I wasn’t here on that day. I was in the newsroom at The Eagle-Tribune and remember being scared to death. Not so much at the scene unfolding on the newsroom TV, but at the scene in the newsroom itself. Chaos was not unusual at The Eagle-Tribune, but this was a whole new level of madness. I can’t remember if my fear was that terrorists might fly a plane into the building we were in as their next act or if it was a fear of not being able to function amidst the chaos. It was probably some of each.
This was a huge story everywhere, but The Eagle-Tribune had a bigger stake in the coverage than most local dailies around the country because many of the victims on the planes that hit the towers were from the Merrimack Valley. There was someone from Methuen, Plaistow, N.H., Haverhill, Amesbury, Andover — all over our coverage area.
When the first World Trade Center tower collapsed on the TV screen mounted above Editor Steve Lambert’s office, he came out, stood on a desk and told everyone to collect themselves a minute, because this would be the most important story we ever covered.
Up to that point, it was. But I was so full of fear and anxiety that my ability to function was gone. I spent most of the next few days in the newsroom, but did nothing of importance. I was a shell. I stayed that way until I left the paper in early 2004. In fact, I stayed that way for some time after that. I should note that the rest of the newsroom staff at the time did a hell of a job under very tough pressure that day. My friend Gretchen Putnam was still editor of features back then, but she and her staff helped gather the news with the same grit she would display later as metro editor.
The bigger point though is that I was in that newsroom, not in lower Manhattan. Many of the people walking by today were, and their scars are deeper.
As I started to process that fact, my mood shifted again.
I realized these people were doing something special. No matter where they were going or what they were thinking, they were moving — living — horrific memories be damned.
They were doing what we all should be doing, living each day to the full instead of cowering in fear in the corner.
Doing so honors the dead and says F-U to those who destroyed those towers and wish we would stay scared.
It reminded me of who I am and what I’ve been through. I didn’t run from the falling towers or get shot at in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Baghdad. But the struggles with OCD and addiction burned scars into my insides all the same.
It’s similar to what the survivors of Sept. 11 have gone through.
They reminded me of something important today, and while some sadness lingers, I am grateful.