I found myself this week looking back a few years, when, well …
“I used to use that as a landmark. Something’s got to go back up there,” Ariste Reno, of New York, formerly of Chicago, told me when I visited the World Trade Center site on the first anniversary of its destruction.
I thought about the National Tower at Gettysburg, which was imploded July 3, 2000, and said so later that day to Mark McGinnis, Gettysburg College Class of 1976, who was in California waiting for a telephone cross-country conference (Zoom had not been invented yet) when the north tower died and with it 10 of his friends and colleagues.
“But the National Tower was ugly,” he replied.
Some people thought so, but you could see it for miles and know where you were, and a lot of people thought the Twin Towers were ugly when they poked their way into New York’s skyline 28 years before the infamous 9-11.
But the Twin Towers also were another kind of landmark.
They were the focal point of the World Trade Center.
Not the New York Trade Center, or the United States Trade Center.
The World Trade Center. They stood on sixteen acres of landfill in Lower Manhattan, next to the World Financial Center. The Hudson River once flowed where those buildings stood.
And where they will stand, I wager.
Out in the bay, Lady Liberty holds her torch high, a sign to all who would come to the United States of America that they are welcome to participate in the creation of unimaginable grandeur and wealth.
The President of the United States is not really the most powerful man in the world. He has only the power that the rest of us, through our representatives and our courts, have granted him.
There are people who cannot accept the concept. Their display of power is not that they can build things, but that they can destroy things.
But they cannot destroy the ideas and ideals that built, and rebuilt, the World Trade Center. They cannot destroy the desire to create.
I thought of these ideas as I looked, on that anniversary afternoon, at the 16-acre archeological dig that once was the World Trade Center.
I stood by the hole and thought of the people who died there, and of the people who worked and played there, and I watched the people who continue to work and play there.
There’s a Frank O’Hara quotation on a fence separating the World Financial Center from the Hudson River: “One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes. I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or record store, or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.”
There are people, I know, who do not regret life, who will lead the rest of us to rebuild and build more landmarks on the map of humanity’s march through history.
The occasional madman will come along to blow something up, to vent his frustration and impotence, to attempt to enlist uneducated poor to assist him. But history also shows he does not last long.
The best thing we can do is plaster over the holes, put a sign up acknowledging the great pain we felt and feel, and get back to work.
The best gift we can give our children is a landmark showing them we were stronger than four guys whose only claim to fame is they could fly a couple of airplanes into a couple of buildings.
And one of them couldn’t even get that right.