I sent this as an email on 9/11. It seems worth sharing again today.
As I walked from teaching in Brooklyn Heights this morning, someone said that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed. We had heard the sirens in class; a couple of students discovered through their cell phones that planes had hit the towers, so I knew that a tragedy was in progress. But I refused to believe that either of the towers could collapse.
I walked to the promenade over the East River where it joins the Hudson, where one normally sees a magnificent panorama centering on lower Manhattan. I wanted to prove to myself that both towers still stood.
Others were doing the same. All silent. No one walking fast.
As I walked down Remsen Street, I could see the water but, half a mile over it, the view was obliterated by smoke. Smoke filled with sparkles, like house lights through a fog.
From the promenade, I found all of lower Manhattan obscured. Nothing could be seen but the smoke–and its little sparkles.
The smoke, the sparkles, were heading our way, slowly spreading over the water. Unable to see anything, finally aware of the immensity of the tragedy, I turned to walk to Shakespeare’s Sister.
The smoke caught me, swept around me, leaving bits of particulate in my nose and throat.
I thought, then, about the sparkles I had seen over the water. Maybe they were bits of asbestos, as one person suggested. Maybe bits of metal from the explosions reflecting the sunlight. Or the bits of paper that soon showered down on us. I don’t know.
To me, they were also something more. They were the spirits of the lives snuffed out, sparkling one last goodbye.