It is Sept. 11, 2002. Neither I nor any of the other writers creating the deluge of commentary today have answers. Like the rest of you, we only have questions. Questions and the occasional brief flash of insight. Sometimes I think we are writing just to hear ourselves write.
A friend and I were sitting on a tram in Orlando this past April, moving from one part of the massive Walt Disney World complex to another. Near us was a family of people who spoke with New York accents.
I was intrigued. I’ve visited New York several times and love the city, as well as its oft-maligned people. And so I felt comfortable making conversation with the strangers next to me on the Disney World tram.
“What part of New York are you from?” I said to the person closest to me, a dark-haired woman in her 40s.
“Brooklyn,” she said, smiling. “Down here on vacation.”
“I love New York,” I said. “I go every year.”
“It’s a great place. Been through a hard time lately.”
“I can imagine,” I said.
“My husband” — she gestured toward the robust man sitting across from her — “is a World Trade Center survivor. He worked for an insurance company in one of the towers.”
“Oh, my gosh,” I said. On paper, “Oh, my gosh” looks like a dumb thing to say. In context, I think it was OK. How else do you respond to something like that?
She continued with her story. You forgive someone foisting such a hugely personal experience upon you when it pertains to Sept. 11. That day made us all intimate friends.
“Some of his bosses were going golfing with clients that day. My husband hates to golf and isn’t very good at it, so he said he would skip it and go into the office like normal.
“They tried to talk him into golfing. Finally, he said if the weather was nice that day, he would golf. Otherwise, he would go to work.
“Thank God it was a nice day.”
She smiled at her husband, who was sitting across from her on the tram, who was out golfing on Sept. 11 instead of working at his desk. Now, he was laughing and joking with the other members of their group, enjoying a family vacation. He glanced over and smiled at us, maybe a little embarrassed at being the topic of discussion. He seemed to guess which anecdote his wife had been sharing; it bore the markings of a story she’d told over and over again since it happened.
What this family learned, and what I hope everyone learned, is that life is fragile and ought to be treasured. I don’t know what this husband and wife were like before Sept. 11, but I have to assume they now had a renewed love and appreciation for each other.
Is that my point, then? It feels like the answer to something. I’m just not sure what the question was.
Those of us in the media had no way of winning on Sept. 11, 2002. If we didn't talk about it, people would say, "How can you ignore the anniversary of Sept. 11?" If we did talk about it, people would say, "Can't you just let it go?" In general, the media chose overkill as opposed to underkill, as the media is wont to do.
Except for the story the woman told me on the tram, I had nothing I particularly wanted to say about Sept. 11. I couldn't write a normal column, for the reasons just mentioned. I suppose I could have written nothing, but I didn't ask. And I didn't feel like writing a column about how I didn't feel like writing a column.