LIKE JONAH GOLDBERG of theNational Review, I never much liked the World Trade Center. Too big, too boxy, too bland.
The skyline I loved from childhood was crowned with Art Deco splendors such as the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. Had developers only stayed the course, Manhattan today might be forested with chrome and neon spires, as exotic a sight as Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.
Instead they gave us boxes of glass and steel, as bleak and soulless as pieces from an Erector Set.
I do not, like Jonah Goldberg, advise rebuilding the World Trade Center. Let it rest in peace. Even so, its virtues have begun to command my notice in recent days.
On Tuesday morning, as I labored at my desk, my wife informed me that two airplanes had struck the World Trade Center in a terrorist attack.
I was startled, but not horrified. No friends or relatives of mine worked there. I imagined that there would be minimal damage and death, as when a B-25 bomber once crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building in 1945.
However, the video footage on television soon set me straight. Staring aghast at the charred and crippled towers, I knew that death had entered our city on a biblical scale.
I hurried down to the riverbank, where many of my neighbors had already gathered.
There it was, across the water. I could see only a single blackened tower in the distance, spewing smoke and flame. Where was the other? Hidden by smoke?
People were saying that one of the towers had fallen.
"No," I objected. "I just saw them on TV. They had big holes in them, but they were both standing."
They looked at me blankly. Then a man cried, "There it goes!"
I turned just in time to see the second tower cave in, with a great cloud of dust and smoke.
Thousands of men, women and children had just perished before my eyes. Some atavistic reflex caused me to make the sign of the cross. But my heart was as cold as ice.
Four years ago, I cried like a baby at my father’s funeral. But when my sister Linda first told me of his death on the phone, I felt nothing, as if a blanket of morphine had drawn itself over my soul.
I felt that way Tuesday morning, on the riverbank.
There were other similarities between the two events.
Upon hearing of my father’s death, I lay in bed sleepless all night, struggling, almost physically, to avoid thinking of his body lying cold in a morgue. In that struggle, I buried every emotion. My heart turned to stone.
Yet, as the days passed, small images would invade my mind like the way my father used to delight us, as children, by making "waves" in our mashed potatoes with his butter knife. And I would have to stop work for a moment and swallow hard until the troubling thought had passed.
It has been like that since the World Trade Center collapsed. Unwelcome thoughts steal suddenly into my mind. I remember how the towers looked when they were rising, one floor at a time, above the city, with giant construction cranes on top. I recall the towers gleaming over the waves of New York Harbor, as they used to appear from my kayak. I remember seeing them from my East Village tenement rooftop, bathed in sunset or ablaze at night with a thousand tiny office lights.
On Wednesday, a friend of ours called from Manhattan. A terrible stench, like burning rubber, had filled the air and she feared it might be toxic.
The stench reached us in Queens that night. It was harsh and sickening. I remembered how the 1956 filmThe Ten Commandments had portrayed the Angel of Death as a silky, living smoke wafting through Egypt’s streets.
We shut our windows and turned on the air conditioner. But, outside, the Angel of Death caressed our house and slithered along our street.
"There is a time for everything …" says Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, "a time to be born and a time to die… a time to kill and a time to heal… a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."
So it is. And the times are shifting now. Jet fighters scream across our sky, where once only airliners from LaGuardia passed. And each of us, in his own way, steels himself for the future.