I guess it was inevitable that if I went back east for any length of time I would eventually find myself drawn to New York City. It was not a decision I made easily. One part of me felt obligated to go and the other part just wanted to hunker down in front of the nickel slots in Atlantic City and pretend there was no bigger world than that of the windowless, timeless, cacophonous casino surrounding me.
I’d spent Veteran’s Day weekend at Valley Forge State Park hiking some of its trails. All about me were signs of the winter of 1777/78 that held such critical meaning for a nation on the verge of existence.
There were remnants of the log huts the soldiers spent the winter in trying to stave off frostbite and starvation. There were the grave markers of soldiers who didn’t make it through that winter. Monuments dotted the landscape, erected by different states to honor their militia who wintered with Washington.
I found myself trying to imagine these rolling hills with the river in the distance all covered with snow. It would not have presented a very inviting landscape. I felt awed and humbled by the men who endured it all for the sake of an idea, a dream, of freedom.
I couldn’t not go to Ground Zero after that weekend at Valley Forge. At this point in history, those two places seem to define the alpha and omega of our nation.
So I grabbed my friend Grace and we took off for Manhattan. It was appropriate that we go together. We’ve done so much together since we met at the tender age of 3 1/2. We started kindergarten together, went through grade school and high school together, shared her wedding day and somehow never lost touch despite the thirty years I’ve been in Alaska.
Now here we were in New York City heading for Ground Zero and wondering what we would find, what new memories we would add to the many we already shared.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a thousand pictures could not adequately describe the scene at this site. If you had never been to NYC before and had never seen the World Trade Center and its surrounding buildings standing there, perhaps the impact would not be so great. But to remember what had been there and see the total emptiness that now fills the space is to know the true meaning of the word obliteration.
People streamed along Anne Street, one block up from the site. At the intersections, you could turn and walk half way down the block to gaze at the destruction before barricades stopped you.
It was like being at a wake. People walked in silence except for the occasional words of “Thank you” or “God bless you” uttered by someone in the crowd to one of the many police charged with keeping the stream moving.
There were the inevitable doomsayers there holding signs that said things like “America ends in one year”. Others held signs saying “God is in control” and “Jesus loves you”.
But what struck me the most were the peddlers hawking everything from fake Rolexes to full business suits (two for the price of one) to every variation of clothing that can be imagined made out of the American flag. They stood on the street in the chilly wind calling out to the quiet stream of people that they were open for business and willing to make a deal. Terrorists simply could not destroy this vitality.
If the business of America is business, then America is alive and well in New York City.
And for all my friends, who will be receiving slightly suspicious Rolex watches for Christmas this year, enjoy them while they work. They come with a no return, no repair policy,