Volume 18, Number 1 | MAY 27 —JUNE 2, 2005, 2005

Talking point

To The Editor:
Rebuilding psyches along with the buildings

By Wickham Boyle

The battle over what will replace the Twin Towers continues; it seems that very few in the inner circle have a desire to rebuild and augment the healing process. Rather it seems the battle is paramount.

I never thought I would write this. I never thought that the stinging horror of what I saw, felt and smelled would diminish. I never thought I would have anything but nightmares about what happened Downtown at the World Trade Center or that any of that time would fade for me. I never thought I would heal; and yet still be able to remember.

Last month, as the battle raged over architecture and public safety, I traveled to Newark for the National Association of Security Dealers, for whom I am an arbitrator. I hitched a ride out from Tribeca through the Holland Tunnel, but when I returned, I hopped the PATH train.

Everyone said it was easy. Mine was the last stop; stay on and get off when the train empties.

No one told me it actually went right through ground zero.

And yet as we emerged into the bright spring light and pulled into the former World Trade Center “bathtub” it was like a weird Disneyland ride. I do not mean to imply that it was fun or speedy or glib or even reverential; it was disorientingly normal. I rode past the giant rivets to my right. I saw the wind-swept basin clean to the bones of what had held up the enormous towers. It was a construction site, albeit a very clean one.

The last time I had been this close was in the weeks following 9/11 when I was down there serving meals to the workers. The air was filled with chunky particles, black smoke belched and clawed at my being, and now here I was, coifed and returning from my straight job rolling into the station. I was a commuting mom, coming home and my stop was announced without fanfare: WORLD TRADE CENTER.

I wanted to jump up and scream in alarm, “Did anyone else hear what he said?” Okay no one else seemed miffed or moved. I sat quietly reveling as we glided into the site of notorious history. I could not help hearing a ring inside my head, a Shakespearean quote, from “Twelfth Night”: “Time, thou must untangle this not I; It is too hard a knot for me to untie.”

Back on Sept. 12, 2001 I might have screamed, “O hell, what will time do?” And yet without watching, unnoticed, and untended, time had taken a raw nerve, a terrified countenance and soothed it some. In the months after 9/11 I could not hear a plane fly low overhead without quaking and weeping. I had dissolved into a hysterical puddle in the midst of the Chilean hot springs, because the fumaroles emitted a ghostly smoke reminiscent of the fields at ground zero.

My stomach churned every morning around 8 a.m. when the flight path allowed airplanes back over my Tribeca loft. I recalled the clear September morning over coffee, when I remarked to my husband that the sound made me think of the explosion back in 1993. I had reason to think that, I had reason to be afraid, unsettled, terrified but strangely the sensation has faded enough to grant me the ability to have morning coffee be just that, a simple moment.

How does the body, mind and spirit contrive to smooth the jangled nerves and frayed edges? How, with no action on our part does all this wonder occur? Or is this perhaps one small miracle to emerge from this horrible event? Are we to see that with faith, whatever we define it to be, leading us forward, merely forward, one foot at a time, into our daily lives of work, love and service we become healed? If we do nothing other than to be full of the faith that we can muster enough energy to make another day matter then in the space of years, without looking, we move toward being healed.

We can move through the terrifying space, we don’t jump and break down, melt into tears at all the buttons. We have knit pieces of ourselves back together and I hope, like broken bones, we are stronger at the broken places. Maybe this is a good enough reason to rebuild on this site.

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