Tony Fusco is a good friend of ours. He wrote the following as an email to me and to a couple of other friends following the events of September 11th. I asked him if I could publish it here, because I think it's something everyone should read.--RW
Today I went to Manhattan on a business trip, and I was able to see with my own eyes what has been done. Somewhere around Exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike is where I caught my first glimpse of the New York City skyline. I easily found the Empire State Building, towering, as it does, over the surrounding structures. And then my eyes naturally began to scan the horizon, looking for the the twin towers of the World Trade Center. And kept scanning. And kept scanning. I found no towers, only a large indistinct off-white cloud. "That can't be from the Trade Center wreckage," I thought, "it's too damn big. It must be from some refinery or factory somewhere." Within minutes, I caught my first unobstructed view of the skyline, and learned how horribly wrong I was.
Where the towers once stood is a gaping open wound in the city. I stared unbelievably, struggling to accept the blatant reality of the scene. I thought I was prepared for what I might see, but I was not. Television cannot capture the impact of this. Cannot. The cloud that slowly rises from this gaping maw is surrealistically huge, bigger than anything you can imagine. And in some strange way, this cloud seemed almost....malevolent. I've struggled to put this feeling into words, but I can't. The closest I can come is to say it was like the breath of a sleeping dragon from the pit of hell. That may seem like an odd way to put it, but it's how it struck me. Traffic being at a standstill, I was able to get the closest unobstructed view of the profile of the city that one can possibly get without being in the water or in the air. It is an image I will never forget for as long as I live.
Police were stopping and searching vans and trucks entering the tunnel. I was stopped and questioned, but was eventually waved on without a search. As I emerged into the city, the police presence was unmistakable. At least one, but usually, two or more officers on every street corner, and at almost every intersection an officer directing traffic. The whole experience was surreal. Not sad or depressing, just.....unreal.
I finally arrived at work (the trip took four hours). Our office in Manhattan has a front wall facing the street that is mostly glass, giving you an almost unobstructed view. From time to time as I worked I would watch out the window, a minute here and a minute there. At some point during the day it struck me what I was really seeing. People of every race, every religion, both sexes, man, woman, old, young, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, marching past this one little window on one little street in this city. Free to go where they want to go, wearing what they want to wear, listening to whatever music they choose, eating whatever food they have the money in their pocket and the inclination to eat, speaking to whoever they live, and saying whatever they want. When I walked to the corner deli to get a bite to eat, my two slices of pizza were heated by a Hispanic cook and rung up by an Asian cashier. The rest of the workers and customers were a veritable United Nations.
Back out on the street corner, I saw before me an even greater multitude of people, talking laughing, hurrying, dawdling; a dizzying array of diversity. Apart, but together. Different, yet together. And although this should be no great revalation, it certainly seemed it to me - this, I realized, is the true essence of America. I was seeing it right before my eyes, all the best of what America is in pratice. Something we take for granted, we don't even see it, and if we even think about it at all, we just take it for granted. We've all talked in recent days about what America is all about, what makes it special, but I have seen it today more strongly than I have ever seen before. I defy you to go anywhere else in the world and see what I have seen on that street corner today. You may be able to find an aproximation of the diversity, but not with such freedom and life and spirit. Life unbowed, unbroken, even though the smoke of ruin and death rises a dozen blocks away. Even on the way home from work, I heard on the radio about the deli in Manhattan making kosher meals for the Jewish rescue workers, being delivered to ground zero by an Arab driver. Case closed.
In the past week, I have struggled to find comprehension, understanding, hope, faith. Many of you reading this have helped me through this tough time, and words can't express what that meant to me. I have always considered myself more aware than most of what advantaged and freedoms and luxuries we have here. But not until this past week have I truly realized how astounding these freedoms really are, culminating in my experiences in Manhattan today. I have seen in one day some of the worst and some of the best of what we can do. And although the bad is pretty bad, the good is better...and stronger. I've had my hope and faith affirmed in a way that I couldn't have anticipated. For all it's flaws, we Americans have got the best thing going since sliced bread. I have seen it in practice today, and it is good.
I could go on for hours (I have gone on for hours), but as the hour grows late and my hands and eyes begin to falter, I must conclude with one thought...God bless America!.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)