Sunday, September 11, 2011

I stood upon a mountain and watched the smoke rise

A couple of days after Sept. 11, 2001, I found myself at Washington Rock State Park in the Watchung Mountains. From a stony perch, I saw the still rising plumes of burnt dust from the World Trade Center. More than 40 miles separate that mountain from New York City; you could not discern specific buildings among the silhouettes in that funnel of ash, steam and smoke, but you knew the source.

Though I did not directly know anyone lost on Sept. 11, I remember how I felt that day. The morning started with confusion as I listened to the radio while I drove to the offices of my old newspaper. Details were sketchy then; no one in the news media knew exactly what happened at the onset. The usually hokey morning radio shows took on hushed, muted tones as the on air personalities disseminated information rather than jokes. None of the frivolities that typically preoccupied our lives mattered.

By the time I pulled into the parking deck on Church Street in New Brunswick, I heard enough to know it was a deliberate attack. After I left my car, I bumped into a coworker and shared a moment of mutual shock. There was little for us to say to each other; we heard similar broadcasts. One of the managers from Old Man Rafferty's, a local restaurant the guys in our newsroom frequented for lunch, also emerged from the parking deck and said, "I just heard; they hit the second tower."

At that point I already knew about the second tower, however to hear someone say it in person brought more tangibility to what was happening.

Detailed accounts from eyewitnesses can be found around the Web; rebroadcasts of news footage can be viewed on television, but we must each decide how we reflect upon that day.

There are dangerous emotions that can run through our veins in response. It's not for me to decide what is the best way to react; I did not lose any loved ones. The day hit me like a mule kick to the chest as if someone stole into my backyard and snatched away part of my community. However, you will not find me going along with vitriolic negativity disguised as jingoism.

I don't stand on a mountain anymore to look at Manhattan now that I work on the other side of the Hudson River. I won't pretend that I am some newly-minted New Yorker just because I sometimes hunt for a spot to sit down with my laptop at caf├ęs outside of Columbus Circle. I am proud to walk the city's streets and wait for the express subway train that never seems to arrive when I need it.

We live in a world of opportunity that is also fraught with events we might not be able to control personally. Rather than ascribe to the notion that "everything happens for a reason", I believe how we deal with such times defines us better than those who seek to assail our way of life.

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Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away