Thanksgiving

2001


“We’d love to have you over for Thanksgiving, that is if you don’t have any plans.”
“Thanks, actually that might be nice, we don’t have much to be thankful for this year though.” There was a pause, “Did you know Robert very well?”

Robert had a last name, but not one I recognized. What remained apparent in being unsaid was that Robert had been lost on that Tuesday in September. Sadly this conversation will be repeated far too many times this year.

I have always cherished the snippets of conversation picked up while waiting to cross the street or in passing on the sidewalks of Manhattan. This one unsettled me.

At the parking garage an MP politely asked to look in my trunk. Fifth Avenue was closed off from 57th Street south. On Madison a motorcade of eight or nine police vans, lights and sirens at full tilt, roared past. At Grand Central a surly individual several steps in front of me turned and held the door for me. “Thank you,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” his uncharacteristic reply.

Something has changed here, I thought.

I got off the subway at the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop. Heading for the exit I passed a young Marine in full dress uniform. His eyes were far away, it was clear where he’d been. He needed to see it first hand; a restorative reason to face the uncertain future before him. When my eyes met his I nodded hello, his eyes brightened, responding to this stranger in kind.

Above ground the iron gates of City Hall were closed. There were tents and checkpoints and police, lots of police. An impassable convex barrier opened out of the drive ten yards behind the gate, revealing its warning in eighteen inch high letters, “STOP.”

I walked south along the fence. I watched a black squirrel scurry about the park secreting away winter provisions. Across the street I first noticed the dust. It clung to and highlighted the sills and moldings and gargoyles of an early 19th Century building. The wind picked up, the sky darkened. I couldn’t see the dust in the air, but my eyes and nose recoiled at its presence.

A large banner secured to the fence along the front of the Episcopal Church at Broadway and Fulton fluttered, catching my eye. On it were hand written wishes and blessings from around the world, a million signatures or more my mind said.
Flyers attached to light poles are unavoidable, the word ‘Lost’ at the top of each and always a photograph, young bright faces. “Kim Lu, 31, 5’7”, Chinese,” one read, “Kathleen Ann, 37, mother of…” another read, the harsh reality overwhelmed me.

Further along, an Asian man and woman sold legal size color photographs of the intact towers to tourists. The tiny photo shop on the corner was doing a brisk business in canisters of film. Next door was a cookie shop. Two women carrying large trays offered samples of chocolate chip cookies to passers-by.

I stopped and looked west down Dey Street. The charred silent stump of Tower One froze, shocked and stilled me. After a silent moment I walked on.

I reached the Network’s media pool camera location, where all the ‘Live’ shots you have seen originate. A tall chain link fence, too tall to see over and covered with a dark green scrim, runs the length of the long block. It is reminiscent of the numerous construction sites found around Manhattan, the ones with the holes cut in the fence so curious pedestrians can witness what’s going on or up behind the barrier, only there are no viewing holes this time. There was another banner hung here with signatures and blessings and flowers and flags.

Without exception everyone passing was quiet, reserved. A stray thought flashes, should the government create a national holiday, Reverence Day would be appropriate.

In midtown I pass a firehouse. A fireman stands in the open doorway. Paper greetings and drawings in pen and paint and crayola decorate the façade, and again there are flowers.

Manhattan is changed, more respectful, more polite. Petty daily aggravations are now trite. There are no words to salve this wound, a loss of this magnitude, but, if we have learned anything, we the living have much to be thankful for.

We must be thankful for the men and women of the police and fire departments and the volunteer workers for the enormity of their selfless courage. We must be thankful for these ordinary people and their extraordinarily heroic deeds. We, too, must be thankful that goodness lives in the hearts of the many and evil festers but in the hearts of the few. We must be thankful for the first waking breath of each new day, thankful for the magic and joy in a child’s laugh or the magnificence of sunrise and sunset.

My grandmother always said, “Count your blessings.” The truth in her words never carried such weight. This Thursday as you gather together with your family and friends give thanks, a blessing or a prayer, for those lost and those present. Be thankful for this moment, for the hope of tomorrow, thankful for each glorious day of life.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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