On September 11th the school secretary pointed to her computer screen as I stood there after dropping off my children that morning at the small rural elementary school. The children were then in Kindergarten and Second Grade. An airplane flew into the side of the World Trade Center as I watched the screen. It didn't seem real.
The words that came out of my mouth will probably shock you.
"Just another day in New York," I said, and turned to walk out of the office to go home.
"Just another day in New York" meant a lot of things to me. It meant that I'd lived in the city from when I arrived there as a throwaway/runaway at the age of fourteen years old. It meant that I'd not only survived as a fourteen year old to become someone more than double that age, but it also meant that I had thrived there in ways, and had opportunities that never could have been found in other places.
It meant that before leaving New York I'd been assaulted while walking up the beautiful tree-lined street in the 'good' neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights where I lived, lifted up by the neck and shaken as if I were a rag doll in the hands of a destructive toddler on a rampage. He wanted my money. I gave it to him.
"Just another day in New York," meant that the year before I left New York, I'd had an intruder come in through my back window overlooking the pretty garden while I was taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon. He wanted my purse. He got it. The neighbors were calling out to me as he somehow clambered down the back wall of the brownstone from the second floor – a true cat-burglar. I thanked them and went to call the cops.
"Just another day in New York," is what I thought to myself at that time also – more or less. I had no cash in the house, and he'd stolen my bank and credit cards. My worry was how was I going to buy a token to get on the subway to get to work the next day.
Well, obviously I found a way, and life went on.
"Just another day in New York," means a lot of things. It means that life, in New York, can be fast and hard and demanding and as dangerous as quicksand. It means that, in this time in history – when a person in this country for the most part can choose to live wherever they want to – it means that New York City has some thing, some rather magical thing – which draws people to it and which then keeps them there, not imagining they could ever want to live anywhere else.
Fact is, this city is alive – alive in ways that other places are not! It lives, it breathes, it talks, it shouts – and it does so with every emotion available to the human race.
"Just another day in New York." I went home that morning to the big house with the pool and the 18 acres, the place where I stayed way out in the countryside because that is where my husband had chosen to live, because he liked it and because I had agreed to it. And where mostly I was alone with my two young children, because he was not there due to business travel.
I turned on the TV and watched the second plane hit the side of the building – and this time I was horrified. Not just another day in New York.
Less than three months later I learned, from a phone call that came to my house rather than to my husband's personal phone – that he had been living with another woman during all that time I'd been taking care of our life out there in the countryside. Not the simpler aspects of playing house that people sometimes do, but actually living with, day by day – during these times where he had told me he was away on business.
Danger can come in ways large or ways small. It can happen in a rough and ready city or out in the pretty countryside where the cows look dolorous and the meadow flowers pretty. There are some places where danger is a part of daily life. Many people do not expect danger, but many people are actually expectant of it, for it is what they have seen and experienced in the places they live – either in their geographic or in their personal internal space.
"Just another day in New York," says more than all that, though. It says that somewhere here there is a greatness to be found, that somewhere here is a spirit that includes and celebrates and builds so very well that, even as it painfully gazes upon the ugly writhing face of terrorism large or small, "Just another day in New York". It says mouthfuls. Huge, air-filled, gulping mouthfuls.
It says surviving and thriving. It says life ain't easy. It swears like a taxi driver and with the accents of the guy at the deli counter. It gets you an espresso faster than a cat's eye can blink and it has a wonderful Brooklyn accent. Its speech patterns are reflective prisms of every place across the world and it's a kid from nowhere looking into the Cartier's window in wonder and disbelief.
It's hot dogs and bagels and caviar. And sometimes it's a plane set into motion aimed to hit you where it hurts.
My thoughts go out to all New Yorkers today and to everyone else who somewhere, have had a plane hit their own skyscraper of whatever architectural variety.