The following are excerpts from Almost Like a Day for Peace by Steven Laffoley originally published on Commondreams.org on November 9, 2005. Thought this might be of interest…
My wife and I arrived in New York just a couple of hours earlier. We came to New York, in part, to enjoy the city. But I’ve returned, in part, to stand at the spot where I had stood in March of 2002, looking for some meaning in Ground Zero – only to find none. Two and a half years later – after two wars, tens of thousands of dead, and tens of thousands of words written trying to make some sense of it – I came to look again, to see if I had missed something then or if some kind of meaning had arrived since. Early the next morning we take the subway south to the financial district, and emerge near Ground Zero. The sky is cloudless and the air cool as I take a deep breath and cross the street to the site.
I stand at the new ten-foot-tall, chain-link fence and look at Ground Zero, now devoid of the blackened debris and the acrid smell of burnt paper and metal. The steel girders, in the shape of a cross, are the only familiar point of reference to March 2002. We walk further along the chain-link barrier, stopping every twenty steps or so to look at large wooden billboards affixed to the fence, each telling a different chapter in the history of the New York skyline and the building of the Twin Towers.
We come across some people having their pictures taken with the site as backdrop. One guy in a red windbreaker and blue ball cap with the words “North Carolina” on it stands by the fence, smiling, his arms raised. His wife – holding out the digital camera in front of her – snaps the family photo.
We walk on. At the corner of the fence, attached at the top, is a makeshift memorial – a large plaque of sorts, dedicated to the “fallen heroes.” I wonder about the choice of the word “heroes.” It wasn’t such a leap from “victims” to “heroes,” I think. How much longer before “heroes” become “martyrs?”
Or has that already happened?
A young man in a suit disrupts my thoughts. He walks by us, talking business, rapidly and loudly, into a small black cell phone. Though he walks along the length of fence overlooking Ground Zero, he never once looks at it.
Two years earlier, American flags were everywhere and patriotism burned white hot. But now New York seems apolitical. In the course of the morning, we’ve seen only a few American flags and no one talks of patriotism – or, for that matter, the election that just took place, or even about the Iraq war.
I look again at the Ground Zero site – busily being primed and prepared for new construction – and it occurs to me that Ground Zero is no longer a physical place. It has become a pure idea, to be bought, or sold, or manipulated. Or put another way, Ground Zero no longer resides in New York City. It exists only in the minds of those who give it meaning.
Later that night, we eat at an Italian restaurant. The crowd is well-dressed, eating dinner before taking in the shows along Broadway. We ask the waiter about the menu and decide on a pasta plate. On the walls around us hang dozens of photos of Italian Americans from the late 1890s to the 1950s.
Sharing a bottle of red wine and a plate of pasta, my wife and I talk about the day – Ground Zero, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, the parade on Fifth Avenue. Save for the parade, and a gaudy display of fifty American Flags outside Rockefeller Center, we saw nothing that spoke of patriotism. I keep thinking about the changes at Ground Zero, and about the passage of time.
When we finish eating, I get up to pay the bill. I cross the center of the room and approach two waiters standing at the register. They are talking about the Veterans’ Day holiday.
“I remember when this was a day to celebrate peace,” says the older waiter to the younger. “It was a day to celebrate the end of World War One.”
“Really?” says the younger waiter.
“Yeah, I can’t remember the name of the day,” said the older waiter as he rings a bill into the register. “But when I was kid – I think it was sometime in the ’50s – the politicians didn’t want a peace day, so they turned it into a celebration of soldiers.”
Perhaps because of the red wine, I feel talkative. So I interject, “It was called Armistice Day.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” said the older waiter, turning in my direction. “It was called Armistice Day, a day for celebrating peace.”
“In Canada,” I tell them, “they call it Remembrance Day.”
“Remembrance Day?” he says. “I like that – Remembrance Day. It’s almost like a day for peace.” He hesitates and then adds, “Right now, we could use a day like that.”
I smile and nod, then hand him my bill. He rings it in, and after I pay, he wishes me well. As we leave the restaurant, and walk to Times Square, I think about what the older waiter said, “Almost like a day for peace.”
And I think: He’s right. We could use a day like that.
Perhaps we should all take time out of our busy day for our own Rememberance Day for those who have fought for our nation, and those who stand ready to defend our country. Remember especially those who have died, and those they left behind. It does not matter what the cause or circumstances, they deserve our thanks for defending our freedom, our home, our families.
We should also never, ever, forget the victims of September 11. Not as heros, but as our neighbors who perished in a tragedy made worse by deranged terrorists. We must never forget, and never allow this to happen again.