Taking Less For Granted

On this day, 10 years ago, I woke up in my New York apartment to the shock of the World Trade Center attack.

Within a few hours, New Yorkers pulled together with a team spirit out of this world. Ethnic, national and socio-economic differences completely collapsed as gracefully as the twin towers. A river of Manhattan day workers from corporate executives to pretzel vendors flooded the streets like a band of brothers with no place to go but sticking together. The hospital rejected me and a room full of other volunteers because they only needed people who spoke Cantonese or Hebrew. Thousands of people could not go home that night, Manhattan’s bridges and tunnels were closed, there was no traffic, the streets were silent. In one day, the always stuffed shelves of the supermarket were half-empty, and wherever you went you couldn’t escape the sickening smell of rotting garbage and burned skin. At least 20 expatriate friends gathered at my house for dinner and despite having known each other for years it was as if we were meeting all over again. A lot of lives were lost, but 9/11, one September day, brought all New Yorkers closer to themselves and to each other. Schools and hospitals and infrastructure untouched, within a week, my classes at NYU resumed, people were back at work, yellow cabs were speeding up and down the avenues and joggers lined the Central Park reservoir.

I wonder – if the attacks would not have stopped, if the stores had not been refilled, if people had not been able to go back to work – how long the team spirit would have lasted. Today I think of those who haven’t been able to go home for years, those to whom a suicide attack is less of a surprise than being able to turn on a light bulb at night, those who cannot even buy the very few items on the shelf of their local food store, those who can not go to school or work and take it for granted as their given right to progress in life. No wonder they are fighting. And no wonder military intervention has done nothing to stop them. Today I’m taking even less for granted.