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James Campion

These words will hit the stands on 9/11, the one-year anniversary of...all right! Enough! We know, already. How did it happen? How are we different as a nation? Reflections. Tributes. Commentary. Anger. Grief. Patriotism. All over again, and again, guessed it...again.

The United States of American absolutely took an unprecedented hit on the eleventh day of the ninth month of the first year of a new millennium. The United States of America had to rebound, respond and rebuild. Yeah, those people in Hibbing, Minnesota and Flagstaff, Arizona or all points south, west and north had a hell of a time trudging through the shock and devastation.

But what about New York City? What about my town? The island of my birth. The place in my heart. And what about those poor souls who went to work as they did every morning, from every walk of life, and every nationality, never to return.

Nothing against the national psyche or the overall mood of the nation following the terrible events of 9/11/01, but 12 months ago the lower half of Manhattan became a war zone. The tallest buildings on this continent's eastern seaboard hit the deck in a fiery hail of brick and mortar and steaming led. And hundreds upon thousands of its citizens went down with them.

NYC was wounded before the first of those Twin Towers hit the pavement. Before a single life was taken. Before a single scream, gasp or rushing civil servant came on the scene. Fear is a tough emotion to hide in a fishbowl. We all know why the enemies of this nation chose NYC, chose the towering symbol of capitalism run amok, chose to put a gaping fissure into its gloriously fashioned landscape.

Most New Yorkers, or Jerseyites or tri-state "bridge and tunnel" types choose to ignore what the rest of the country or the world thinks about NYC, and everything it stands for. The volume and energy, the brash, dig-deep and call the big dogs out we're taking this sucker by the jugular and riding it out to God's horizon kind of gruesome beauty.

And that goes for all the viewpoints of those who see NYC as some kind of moral cesspool of violence and corruption, fast talking power mongers feeding off the young and innocent while the women take the survivors and chew on their intestines for a nicotine substitute. A knockdown, drag-out ugliness fit for the final days of Nero on the precipice of human gluttony hardly imagined by the middle-class backbone of salted American earth.

Yeah, we pretty much ignore that kind of shit around here. Those who have spent fifteen minutes in NYC know how much passes for truth and whatever's left is everything we want everyone else to think about it.

When I was in Israel some six years ago now, I can recall the utter mask of horror that would engulf the faces of the locals when I informed them of the place from which I hail. At the time I was living about 30 miles northwest of the big town and the poor bastards wondered what had kept me alive so long. These are people who live in the REAL Ground Zero, and not just for the past few months, but the past four decades. These were the souls who had heard all they wanted to hear about NYC.
Israelis concerned for New Yorkers.
And maybe, it turns out, they were correct.
Be that as it may, the rest of this nation, and the globe for that matter, watched NYC take the monumental hit 12 months ago, and although there has been much song and story attached to it, NYC took it like the proverbial champ.

The mayor was a tireless lunatic, the police a swarming cadre of manic fusion and the fire department, a 360, crease-streak, four-on-the-floor, top-gun slam dunk. And the people, NYC's people, came with the good stuff. No, the great stuff. A hymn for humanity. It was a thing to behold. It was an historical thing to behold and then some. That day, and every day after. It was, it is, NYC, with all its warts and scars and bad stories from bad neighborhoods and bad asses, cranking it up night after night after night. Putting it back together. Smoothing the edges. Filling the holes, especially the ones in the chests of its grieving.

NYC had to show the rest of this spinning sphere how to get up, and clean up, and cauterize the wound. To stabilize, like a body invaded by a virus must. Go on, or die trying. Fighting. Fighting for survival, the kind of survival no American metropolis has had to struggle for since the Civil War.
Economic downturn, disasters on Wall Street and the fear of the wandering tourist aside, NYC had a hell of a winter and spring and summer. I was there for a chunk of it. Collecting traffic tickets, getting into fierce debates, closing bars and experiencing friends and colleagues as they created great theater and music and sports, and getting infused like before.

Only for many of us who can't remember a deviation from the skyline, it is different now. Not because we choose to ignore it or gloss it over with a New Year's sheen or some summer festival charm, but because part of survival is merely living. Part of the victory of death is a new life, a resurrection, because in a world where safety is a luxury beyond all of our pocket books, drowning out the sorrow by facing the dawn is its cure.

NYC is the greatest city in the world. It is the greatest city in the history of civilization. Not because it's big and loud and rich and broke and mean and lovable and dirty and magnificent and peaceful and teetering on the edge of sanity all at the same time, but because it's streets are filled with survivors.
Fighting. Fighting.

© James Campion September 11 2002

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