The Same Blue Skies

Want for this city and for this world now what I wanted then: peace, justice & understanding

It’s the perfect blue skies that always remind me of that morning eleven years ago now. The skies and the air feel the same and that’s always what takes me back.

Last year was the big 10th anniversary of September 11th 2001 that also marked my ten years in New York that inspired more lengthy reflections. My feelings about the political and emotional circumstances around this day have not changed much since last year and the same feeling are echoed even further back. I’m tired of war and tired of patriotism and ready for real critical reflection, justice and peace. Searching in my old files, I found this piece I wrote about September 11 in 2003:

“On that morning language failed… In those moments of not knowing, not being able to articulate what was going on on a massive scale, I knew that never again could I believe in a narrow idea of “truth.”  No singular narrative could ever capture that, or any experience.  Of course, since then I’ve witnessed many attempts to manipulate these diverse and disparate narratives into one master narrative.  A narrative that believes in an idea of “America” as benevolent while at the same time baying for vengeance…

Remembering September 11th is a reminder to me of how the damage done by violence of any kind is permanent.  Whether that violence is an act of war, abuse, police brutality, or not having food, housing or medical care, or is emotional, physical, sexual, or psychological.  These types and acts of violence are not the same, but the systems that perpetuate them are similar and inter-related…  Because it continues to haunt me I know I need to oppose domination and oppression, and the acts of violence that feed them, everywhere.  I feel I must do this in order for healing to be possible.  Healing is possible, even though the effects of violence stay with us.  I believe this because I feel everyone’s life needs to be about more than just survival.”

Reading this now I still stand behind the politics and emotions expressed in that piece. However, I think, I have found a way to heal by slowly, deliberately and stubbornly building a life in this city. I have worked hard to find health and creativity and to inspire that in others. I still struggle with how best I can help contribute to a city that’s a just and beautiful place to live for all and how I can support and engage my own creativity, but I feel my small daily contributions and actions strive towards these ideals.

My life, and New York City, is obviously so different than it was eleven years ago. I had no idea how to picture myself at 31 at that time. Being an adult seemed impossibly far away with such a looming and intense event in the foreground. Looking back today I can say that the 20 year old me who witnessed those tragic events from my 6th floor dorm room in Union Square would be pleased with the 31 year old I have become looking at two towers of light rising into the sky in remembrance and tribute from Brooklyn.

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Reluctant Reflections Ten Years Later

Heaven's garden (wishing all peace this weekend)

Islamic tile work representing heaven as a garden at the Brooklyn Museum

I’d prefer not to say anything about today. Earlier this week I filled out the New York Time’s interactive map pinpointing where I was on September 11, 2001 (17 Union Square West in my freshman college dorm) and my reflections 10 years on. I chose “unmoved.” I’m not unmoved in that I don’t feel empathy for those who lost friends and loved ones that day. At the most basic, I wish that today didn’t become a big patriotic hullabaloo. I upsets me that it’s just another chance to put our hands over our hearts and say “God Bless America,” and forget about the rest of the world. I’m tired of how this day was turned into an excuse for war, a grab for power, a justification for racism, and a suppression of human rights and civil liberties in the United States and abroad.

Ten years ago I had arrived in New York an idealistic, moody activist  ready for her freshman year at a liberal arts college and ready to fall in love with New York (or at least give the city a chance). September 11th didn’t change that, but it changed my focus. Before the struggle against globalization and the need to undo the injustices of colonialism seemed abstract. September 11th brought them into focus and made me think about the consequences of centuries of oppression. It also made some struggles and concerns pale in comparison.

Lower Manhattan, Early September, 2001

Maybe it’s because I was in Union Square on that morning and I looked downtown and saw the smoke and heard the sirens (and breathed that scorched , chemical laden air for weeks afterwards), and remember the collective gasp that went up when the towers collapsed, but I always felt that September 11th was a tragedy centered in New York.

Ever since that morning I’ve also been both proud of certain responses in this city and ashamed of others. I remember drawing on sidewalks with chalk the night of September 11th 2001, writing, “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” I remember the huge memorials of candles set up in Union Square. I remember clearly rallies every Saturday at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (my neighborhood) to demand the release of immigrants detained after 9/11 that were held for months without trial. At the same time, New Yorkers raised huge opposition to bombing Afghanistan and later Iraq.  Most people were speaking out against racism, even while immigration authorities were acting on it. I think the New York Time’s op-ed said it best in the piece What New York Didn’t Loose After 9/11. The larger impulse was towards helping those impacted by the tragedy, not towards revenge, but towards community, openness, and reflection. This is a stalwart city, tough, but one that stands up for its own and (in the best of cases) doesn’t discriminate between who is and who is not a New Yorker.

Lower Manhattan, November, 2001

September 11th made me determined to love this city and stick with it through all of the challenges it posed. Ten years later here I am. Today is not one for ceremonies and listening to those in power, and it looks like I’m not alone in this. Today is time for enjoying the life I’ve built here piece by piece, despite the tragedy, despite eight years of the worst president this country has ever known, and despite my own personal roadblocks and frustrations. One of the comments on the New York Times’ map called the past ten years “a lost decade.” I disagree. This decade has been hugely significant to me personally. I went from a teenager to an adult, I struggled, I built my life, and I spoke up, even with such dreary politics and global realities as a backdrop. Today I’ll have brunch with friends, ride my bike along the waterfront and maybe drink a beer brewed right here in Brooklyn. Here’s to you, New York! To your diversity, acceptance, your resilience, and to the people of this city and the world!