For anyone who happened to grow up in New York and later settled in the D.C. metropolitan area (and there are many others beside myself), September 11th packs a double whammy. The images of the burning towers, the obscene hole gaping from the side of the Pentagon, and the enormous smoldering crater in Shanksville, PA are everywhere this weekend. The power of these images is indisputable, and difficult to erase. For my children, they have become the ultimate symbol of the deeds of evil men, replacing those images from my own childhood of the Holocaust and town lynchings.
Fortunately having grown up in New York, I had visited the World Trade Center many times and have many happy memories of the buildings prior to 9/11. Still, I was surprised to find one such memory surface the other night, while watching the nightly news, when my daughter commented that she hadn’t known that there was a subway that ran underneath the WTC.
My former sister-in-law, like nearly everyone who has worked in the financial markets in New York, had at one time, worked in the World Trade Center. Having worked in Manhattan for nearly 30 years she has seen and experienced her share of the bizarre. One day, as was her routine, she left her office at rush hour and headed to the subway located at 5 WTC. The human traffic on the platform was moving at a considerably slower pace than usual. My sister-in-law (let’s just drop the ‘former’ for style purposes) who stands about 5’3 in heels was unable to see over the heads of the other commuters and was therefore incapable of determining the exact cause of the bottle neck. She inched her way along with the rest of the exhausted people trying to get home, until she finally came upon the problem – in fact she nearly tripped over it. Moving slowly along the platform was a tiny, elderly woman. She was well dressed and did not appear to be homeless or suffering from dementia. Attached to the woman’s hand was a leash. Curious to see what kind of dog was being dragged through the WTC subway at rush hour, my sister-in-law looked down to find at the end of the leash, not a dog, but an enormous, white rabbit.
The image was certainly bizarre, but what struck my sister-in-law as being even more remarkable was the fact that everyone on the platform gave her the space that she and her four legged friend required. No one bothered the woman with a dirty look, an unkind word or an offer to shove her onto the track. Commuters simply went around her in the same way that they would have gone around a broken piece of machinery or a large crack in the pavement. For someone who grew up reading A LOT of Beatrix Potter, this is a powerful image – stunning!
And so for now I’ve chosen to keep this image of the World Trade Center front and center in my mind, for it truly is a thing of beauty. A mass of tired, stressed out New Yorkers, schlepping along the subway platform, ties askew, briefcases weighing heavily in their hands, blisters no doubt forming on the back of the feet from their high heels, patiently moving around an elderly woman and her rabbit.
I’ll continue to pray for those souls lost on September 11th and I’ll thank God (anyone’s God) for the people on that train platform who exhibited such beautiful peace and grace at the end of hard day.
This is how I will remember the World Trade Center.