The empty space I found in New York

A week has passed since I left New York City after making what I once considered to be a pilgrimage to the site of the World Trade Center.

On the other side of my intial, more cynical reactions, I’ve come back to the experience with a much deeper sense of ambivalence and confusion.

Comments from best friend and fellow Midwesterner Nick Hurwitch had me questioning how I felt about the events and about my visit to the site. I’ve had to ask myself, what did I expect from it? People crying in the streets? After all, eight years has passed.

Even so, for something that has bothered me so deeply and for something that I’ve envisioned for at least a year, the trip was nothing like I expected. Regardless of the reactions of other people at the site (I guess I expected something just a little reverent), there was nothing about the WTC site that gave me the closure or answers that I had hoped to find.

I’m left wondering what I should feel about the whole situation. Part of the trip was to takee a city that was, for all intents and purposes, fictional, and make it real for me. That, in turn, was to make the entire 9/11 event become real for me.

My problem has always been one of distance, metaphorical and physical. From my vantage as a Michigan teenager going through high school, New York was a shining city that existed in film. Nothing like that place exists in our state, and I never even made it to Chicago until I was in college. Until recently, I’d never seen a place like New York outside of a screen or a photo of some kind.

So how was I to feel about a national tragedy? I’ve never even felt very connected to the United States as a nation. The U.S. you see on TV (and therefore, extrapolate as the experience of other Americans in the American places that matter) is not the one you experience in the Detroit suburbs.

The Midwestern U.S. is far more muted.

Reading about and seeing depictions of Americans lining up to fight for their country after Pearl Harbor had particular resonance. When there was an attack on our country, ALL Americans felt attacked.

I didn’t feel attacked on 9/11. I still feel an isolation in this state, which is ass-backwards in as many ways as possible. Our largest city is so corrupt, government officials are stealing from their own children. We’re losing people and jobs so fast there might not be much more than a sinkhole where Michigan is now in 10 years.

How am I supposed to feel about two planes being crashed into the World Trade Center?

It’s a question I’m only beginning to answer, and I didn’t find that answer at the site of the tragedy. What I’m feeling now is confusion because if that answer wasn’t there, where the hell is it?

I hurt for the people who died, but do I feel community with them? No.

More than anything, what I’ve experienced in regards to the national tragedy is seeing identification in others. A feeling of belonging. A feeling of camaraderie. A feeling of community. A feeling of needing to reach out to help those among them who have been hurt.

There’s identity in that.

What identity do I have?

The trip to the WTC site was a search for a mirror that I thought would help reflect back at me a greater understanding of what it means to be an American. But that mirror doesn’t exist.

I’m still wondering what my reflection looks like.

One thought on “The empty space I found in New York

  • July 4, 2009 at 12:05 am
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    It was only once I realized that the collective American consciousness was a contruction – a falsehood – that I was able to come to terms with 9/11 in the capacity you seek. That said, it doesn't exactly clarify things to know that the ad hoc answer is one that maintains precisely (a disconnect, as it were) what we are seeking to replace (with a definite and definable sense of connection).

    Bravo. I'm enjoying these posts.

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