One unexpected experience in the aftermath of 9/11 was a sudden and overwhelming feeling of being united with the people around me. Any act, thought, or agenda that tarnished that sense of unity was painful to me. In the early months, these transgressions were rare. When residents of our condo got together, it was with a sense of relief that no one was hurt and with the common objective of reconstructing our building. In the community, there was a rush of people exiting the neighborhood permanently. This was depressing, but those of us who remained pulled closer together.
But eventually our unity fractured. Issues arose, people took different sides. It happened over environmental concerns in our schools. Families of the murdered began to have expectations about the total preservation of Ground Zero that offended local residents. In our condo, different agendas and priorities surfaced. In every forum, people started taking care of themselves at the expense of others. In the simple world of survival after 9/11, it was easy to pull together. As the complexities of life surfaced, people pulled apart again.
Yesterday we had a condo board meeting. The board, with five members, represents approximately 50 percent of the unit owners. We have worked for a year in complete agreement on how to proceed with the building. There have been challenges, but we have always been able to agree on strategies and decisions.
The top of the South Tower landed on its side directly in front of our building. It collapsed the eight-story building across from us. A piece of that tower glanced the front of our building leaving a 20-foot-wide hole. Every window on the front of the building was blasted out, and rubble piled up against our front doors. We repaired a hole in the front of the building, replaced the broken windows, performed an extensive (if incomplete) cleaning of the interiors, and are in the midst of repairing the entrance and storefronts. We need to do one more cleaning before we can rebuild. Our interiors will require reconstruction from the ground up. We expect it to take six to eight months.
But over the last six months, most of our attention has unfortunately gone into addressing legal issues with two unit owners rather than dealing with real construction issues. These two owners are pursuing legal action because they don’t want us to continue working on the building. The play of personalities and agendas has resulted in more time being spent on process and procedures than on making decisions and executing work. We have become a corporate bureaucracy rather than a group of mutually supportive neighbors.
Walking back to 114 Liberty after the meeting, I come across a protest. This is a group of 9/11 families demanding that the site be preserved as is from bedrock to the sky. They all wear yellow to show their unity. They give speeches as if at a religious revival or political rally. They speak with self-righteous indignation. They are threatening.
I’ve spoken in numerous public forums on issues related to the WTC. Specifically, I’ve supported the notion of rebuilding the WTC (not the towers specifically) to serve all its previous purposes. My life was closely tied to the site. Despite its inhuman proportions, it was an intimate part of my family’s daily life. It was the center of our town, our playground, our garage, our public transportation, our mall. It was the view from our front window and the first thing we saw when we stepped out the door. After viewing its destruction, I wanted to see it restored, and I wanted it to be better than it was before. I wanted it to honor the losses while supporting life. Speaking about this in public was always difficult. It’s not easy to disagree with those in grief, with people who very few were willing to disagree with.
This rally outside my door was initiated by a group of people that I know. I reached out to a few, but we never really connected. It soon became obvious that compromise was not possible. These people suffered from a bitter personal loss that unfolded in the most difficult way imaginable. They are here on the eve of the anniversary of their loss running an angry rally demanding that the center of the downtown community become a barren void dedicated to perpetual mourning. Perhaps I’m healing, because today, I feel deeply sorry for them and not at all angry.