Reading Steven Church's wonderful post to Brevity's blog today just reminded me that it is in fact another September 11, the 14th after the 9/11. I think it's in the collective unconscious of New Yorkers to call it just another day. We're moving onward, everything is ok. And it is, for the most part. Then I look at even my most recent writing, and I realize that everything I think and do is touched by the shadow of that day.
I just finished the (hopefully) final edit of a piece on running in the city (and elsewhere) and I just remembered this passage, which I'm sharing here as my way of remembering before I move on with my day.
The first time I felt any agency over the city and my place in it was about four months after I moved there, when I started running it. Seeing the first blossoms on the trees welcoming me out of my first winter and into my first spring and summer and autumn in the city, I laced up a pair of old Air Pegasus shoes, provided years earlier by the Murray State athletic department, and ran out the door and into my new home.
At first I was adversarial and stupid—running headlong into crowds of people on Jackson Avenue, leapfrogging dogs and dodging street-meat vendors while many people cursed me in Spanish, rushing over every bridge I could find and forcing myself to look over and down into the streets and the water below in full knowledge that my greatest fear is falling off a bridge and drowning in a river. But sometime in 2001, after I’d moved to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, I began acknowledging my running as a meditative act, an endless process not of defeating the city but of getting to know it—sublimating myself to its rhythms and contours and smells and boundaries.
That year I remember September 11, but I remember September 10 just as intensely. I was to start my new job the next evening as a teaching assistant in a program at CUNY teaching writing to new immigrants, and that evening I decided to run to Owl’s Head Park and back. I was on Second Avenue and approaching Belt Parkway when the skies opened and I ran into a wall of heavy, stinging rain. I remember that summer as one of the hottest I’ve experienced in New York, extending well into September, and my reaction to this downpour is my mnemonic device. Every drop felt like it was washing another day of dust and grime from my body. By the time I reached Owl’s Head, the rain had stopped and I was the only one in the park. I went to the highest point, stopped, and looked out into the Hudson Bay. Fishermen and crabbers hunched over the rails on the pier below like wharf rats, freighters rusted in the channel like they’d been there for centuries, the Verrazano Bridge loomed in the near distance and the Outerbridge in the rear, and the cement below my feet felt just a little softer. It was one of those moments that becomes emblematic and allegorical as it metastasizes in the memory outward from a few fleeting moments into a Defining Event. For me, it was the moment I knew I’d made a home here, not because I’d defeated this city but because I’d conceded to it.