I am having a harder time today than I had during last year’s September 11th anniversary.
Partially, I think this is due to the place I am in, at this moment, in my life. The trajectory I have traced in recent posts has left me in a foreign condition, one wherein I feel my feelings more directly than ever before. Previously, this only happened after hours of lonely, vicious digging – hours spent letting my work take me wherever it was that I couldn’t otherwise go on my own. But, now, most of the time, there they are: unadulterated, raw feelings. Good feelings, bad feelings. Feelings that are good and bad – that simply are.
Something else has happened to me, though, that I don’t know that I have explored in quite as much detail, but which today has me thinking that there’s an additional reason why I am feeling especially aggrieved on this particular anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Today, surprisingly, I feel the very particular pain of this city in my heart.
I have lived in New York City for the better part of eleven years now, but only recently have I begun to identify as a New Yorker. I don’t even know where to begin in tracing this path to belonging.
What I will say is that I think there is a special magic, that draws certain souls to this place. Perhaps much of that magic has been lost, especially at this tragically unjust time in our socio-economic history, but enough of it lingers – or has survived – that I believe I can safely identify it as the place that has helped me arrived at some semblance of personal redemption.
I came to the city a wide-eyed child, with little idea of how to actually lay the groundwork for achieving the grandiose visions of artistic success that I had assigned to the place, and even less of an idea of just how difficult a struggle it would be to pursue paler, more grounded forms of those visions without the experience and the courage that I have only recently, after so much time, begun to truly employ in both my art and my life.
My life here began softly, cushioned by the fact that I was a student before I became a true resident. Today, as I have occasionally in the past, I find myself recollecting several conversations I had with well-meaning but frightened family members and friends from my hometown, who (gently) questioned my decision to move to the city the year after the September 11th attacks. Always in my mind, when I think about my personal anniversary as a New Yorker, I think in these terms. Always, when I think of how and why I came to live here, about how long I have been here, it is in the context of that day.
I came here the year after. Never, before today, did the reflection go much further than that.
I have noticed a peculiarity in the patterns of anniversary and other such time signifiers, a little-discussed phenomena that has occurred, at least in my life, with regularity.
We tend, for obvious reasons, to assign special significance to anniversaries that fall into certain easily quantifiable (or qualifiable) spheres. Repetitions of five, ten, twenty-five, a hundred – these incarnations receive more of our attention because they represent cleaner markers. A sixteenth, eighteenth or twenty-first birthday, as a rite of passage, takes on a similar significance. But what I have noticed is that, for me at least, just as much emotional resonance can be found in the deflated space that immediately follows such markers.
I remember my twenty-second birthday as anticlimactic. That’s not even completely true. I remember it as depressing. I remember feeling thrown onto the path of adulthood, whether I liked it or not, in spite of any subsequent efforts to fight this reality in the near-future of that year. Contrarily, I look forward to my thirtieth birthday with relief. I have been exhausted by my twenties. Still, I suspect thirty will seem an achievement, thirty-one – well, I don’t know.
And today is the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Compared to the tenth anniversary, it is a quieter day of remembrance. Speaking only for myself, this year’s anniversary seems to have arrived quickly. But here it is.
Absent the added layers of significance that is bestowed upon such an anniversary at more easily-marked occasions, and finding myself faced with a new level of awareness of my own feelings, I feel today, in a more direct way than in recent years, that I mourn for my home and for my fellow New Yorkers (as well as with America at large).
As I went about my day today, I saw sadness in the expressions of other pedestrians as we passed each other on the street. In the faces of my neighbors, I sensed echoes of the hesitation that I myself felt, a barely-detectible slowness delaying my every public action by the slightest bit, as the memory of that day vibrated through the city in a way that is perhaps a touch more raw today as compared to two years ago, when there were more events and remembrances to ease the pain that this day always brings, year after year.
Most of all, though, I feel a strange overlap between my time in this city and that day when it was forever scarred. After all this time, I feel true camaraderie. I know that what I feel is not the same as those who were here. But I do feel the relativism between specific measures of time eroding. I feel that I belong here. I think about all this, and I feel all of this, and I remember, not only why I came to New York but why I remain.
In defiance of all that has happened here in the years since that day, the magic that brought me here, which made its way into my blood over time, as it has done to countless others – it does remain.
New York City has given me faith. It has tested me. It has delivered me to love and it has challenged me to confront hate. I will be honest – I don’t always want to be here. It is a place of great highs and lows. But life is a series of highs and lows, if you embrace it fully enough. I don’t know, any longer, that I could ultimately choose not to be here.
Today, I feel the grief of a city that has become my home. I remember that I came here, purposefully, defiantly, in the wake of tragedy. I remember the cost paid that day, in human life, before I arrived. I am humbled by it. I cannot begin to comprehend what the families of the fallen must feel. Still, I remember the anger, the sadness, the pain of that day – and I accept that these feelings exist also in me.
For whatever reason, I have in recent years hesitated to join the refrain, to: “Never forget”. It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment. But I think, perhaps, at least for this year, that instead of reciting the negative, instead of reminding people of what they should not do – I would rather be active about it. As difficult as it can be, what I want most for myself and for us is to remember.
I remember coming to New York City desirous of an unnamable future life that was bigger and brighter and deeper than anything I had previously experienced. This, I have received, in spite of myself, and for this reason I am grateful for that old magic that still persists in this place. I am grateful that some version of it has survived. I am hopeful that what is left of it can be harnessed and nurtured.
So, I suggest we remember. New York is many things. More than anything else, though, I think it is a place that accepts and endures – if you respond to it in similar terms. We will continue to solemnly mark today’s anniversary perpetually, year after year. Let us also mark tomorrow’s, in deference to the quieter strength of less-celebrated touchstones that resonate just as fully in our hearts.
For better and worse, each day holds the potential of those that exist previous to it. We can carry the lessons of solemn anniversaries with us through subsequent days.