Eight years ago on Friday, many of my generation learned how the unending depths of sorrow feel.
I doubt a single face failed to fall at the sight of those 2,993 freshly laid flags on Copley Lawn. I looked out of my window and saw people racing to class slow down to look; then, a hole appeared in their hearts and stomachs. We apparently don’t believe in spontaneous generation anymore because biologists are smarter than that. But there it is, the absence we feel suddenly reappears. We remember.
In the stomach there is hunger, in the eyes stinging weariness, in the back of the throat the feeling you get after crying. Your muscles don’t work, that book bag is pulling you to the ground. Maybe we could just curl up under a blanket until tomorrow? Or, better: Curl up and pray for yesterday’s return.
Three of the four cities I’ve lived in have faced significant terrorist attacks. I’ve grown weary of this. My soul is worn out, my heart physically aches. My eyes well up and so do yours because there were far too many flags on Copley Lawn . There should have only been two, up on those tall steel masts.
I’ve belonged to a couple of countries in my time but an American flag flew proudly in my room on Friday because we’re all Americans, as the French newspaper Le Monde put it the morning after the attacks. These United States need not be eulogized – they’re not going anywhere – but we lost a lot that morning.
Those who saw the Twin Towers firsthand know their immense scale. To friends who ask me what it was like to see them, I point to the MetLife building, which sits like a monolith on Park Avenue. They looked like forces of nature. It seemed the only way those things could have emerged was through sheer will power, because it seems absurd to say men built them.
From the observatory I remember looking out at Brooklyn, Wall Street, the rest of the island and toward the west. And I could see the curving of the steel in the atrium, inspired by Gothic architecture: that of church steeples which once were the tallest buildings on this island. I also noticed the narrow windows, although they seemed more like lines because they went from floor to ceiling. My ears popped in the elevator. Once I reached the top, I saw how normal the place was. It had narrow windows because chief architect Minoru Yamasaki was afraid of heights.
And yet he built the world’s tallest buildings. Such was the magic of this place. I returned to Britain in early September after visiting the buildings in their final year. It was one of the first few days of secondary school and on the way home the radio crackled with a dispatch from the New World. It seemed something had happened in New York.
I turned on CNN and there it was. In my mind the memory of seeing the shimmering city from the South Tower’s crown played back and forth. I remember seeing the north tower, looking down at the impossible stretch of material that held me 107 floors above the surface of the earth. Then they played the tape of the second plane. Pure, unadulterated horror. Gasps, shrieks, wails – and it was all real. I don’t think I could stand then, and it will forever physically weaken me to think of that image.
So when George Friedman promises the end of jihad, I hope he’s not just saying so to sell his latest book with an outlandish premise. And we can talk incessantly about the geopolitics of it, the need for education and literacy in central Asia, the oppression of women, children, gays, Jews, blacks, Romas, and so on in that unending list. We can even say we should be more responsible with the way we throw our NATO might around.
But did you see those men and women that day? There were people running into lower Manhattan. People ran toward the flames, toward the asbestos-riddled streets. That doesn’t make any sense! They arrived, covered in the fine powder of what remained, and looked expectantly around, hands open and waiting, ready to help. It wasn’t even noon.
There was no happy ending to the story. What those men and women did was all they could do; it was the purest form of self-expression at that moment. But they arrived at an enormous tomb. Like soldiers on a battlefield at the end of the carnage, they felt no pride, no justice, no victory, no sanity, no desperation, just the bleakest depths of sorrow at their lost brothers. There was no reward for their effort, there was only reality.
Udayan Tripathi is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at tripathithehoya.com. History Never Repeats Itself appears every other Monday at www.thehoya.com.
*To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact [opinionthehoya.com](opinionthehoya.com). Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*”