September 11, 2001
A letter from New York to America.
We’re feeling better now, thank you for asking.
And thank you for sending us your brave rescue workers, your kind donations and your sincere prayers.
We know that you feel bad for us.
But in some odd way, we feel bad for you. You weren’t here to witness with your very own eyes humankind at its finest hour.
You didn’t see thousands of ordinary Americans run to the disaster site clutching medical bags, grocery bags, and shovels. (Just where do we New Yorkers keep shovels in our tiny little apartments?)
You weren’t here to see thousands of us line the roads and cheer rescue workers on.
Yes, we admit New York has been irreversibly changed. Don’t get us wrong, the streets are still dirty, somehow the millions of tears shed here have yet to clear our sidewalks of litter. Yes, go ahead you can say it, it’s okay, we are still the city that never sweeps.
But the adjectives that people have used, maybe even those that you have used to describe our city: dirty, smelly, noisy, have also been irreversibly altered. Impossible as it may seem to accept — New York is now Holy. If you could only stand near the site of the World Trade Center, you would at once understand that it is one of the holiest places on earth, like the battlefield at Gettysburg, or the barb wired fences of Auschwitz. Our apologies to the Grand Canyon but surely God won’t be found there, he is dwelling this moment above the ruins of the World Trade Center.
Maybe it is a result of all of the prayers that you have sent our way, but if you were here in the last two weeks you would realize that New Yorkers themselves have been in a state of grace. Tourists often remarked they could actually feel the energy of our city. Today you would feel the positive energy; you would feel a buzz, a life force that can only be described as basic human goodness.
It’s almost as if 8 million people had decided that through sheer goodwill and compassion they could outweigh the evil wickedness of 19 of their fellow humans. (Is it too harsh to call them in-humans?)
It is a glory to behold. You must, if you can, come and be a part of it.
You’ve told us that we acted honorably. How could we not act with honor? We were horrified eyewitnesses as misguided souls sacrificed their lives so others would die. Then watched in awe as our police and firemen sacrificed their lives so that others might live. We take solace in the certain knowledge that our firemen are safe in heaven, while the hijackers are surely battling the flames of hell.
No doubt about it New York has changed in other ways. It’s time that we admit it. We’ve always been a part of the American family, but for some reason or another we never quite got around to sitting down with the rest of you for a Thanksgiving dinner.
We know. We understand. We are different. Yes, we’re always in a hurry. But maybe now you understand that we’ve always known that life is short, accomplish what you can before it’s too late. Yes we are loud. But maybe now you understand that we’ve always known, that God is a long way off. Sometimes you have to shout to be heard.
We’re aware that there exists someplace out there in America something called the Heartland. Our apologies to Iowa, but from now on when we hear the word Heartland, our thoughts will not be of rolling cornfields. Rather it will be the picture of one of our brave firemen climbing a tower to heaven. Surely you won’t begrudge us that.
Through your prayers and concern you have accepted us back into the family. You will have to excuse us if we seemed confused. We are not quite sure whether on September 11th all New Yorkers became American, or all Americans became New Yorkers.
What we do know is that for years you have been sending us your sons and daughters. They came here to be a part of this grand experiment in humankind. They tell us native New Yorkers about the beauty of the Arizona desert. The simple joys of Southern hospitality. We smile and accept them as one of us. How can we not when we have a lady standing in our harbor beckoning the world to send us her children?
When you come to our city you’ll see some amazing things. Yes it sounds like we’re being boastful again. It’s one of our faults, we’ll try to work on that. But it’s hard. Because if you were here you would have seen that when the smoke had cleared the tallest things standing in New York were its citizens.
We New Yorkers have always been a bit embarrassed by our Mayor when he claims New York is the Capital of the World. But there is not one of us who wouldn’t plant a kiss square on his mouth, if he would only just stand still for a moment. In our city where the police were once jeered, they are now cheered. Our firemen no longer need ladders, for they already stand on pedestals 10 stories high.
Surely every American wished they could live in a community like that.
We thank you for giving us the honor of representing America. That the face of America that the world saw (in NY pronounced “sore”) was that of a cop from Brooklyn, a fireman from Queens, a secretary in sneakers from Staten Island. We hope you won’t be too upset that many of those faces wore Yankee caps. We’re hoping that our Damn Yanks win the World Series again this year. Not because we need another Championship banner. No, what we need right now is a tickertape parade right up Broadway. In this parade our sports heroes and our citizens will line the streets and cheer for all the brave rescue workers, our true heroes. And if you, the rest of America, can’t make it to our parade, at least watch it on TV. Scan the crowds and you’ll see the faces of your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters. Your fellow New Yorkers. Your fellow Americans.
In closing we should mention that one of our favorite expressions in New York has always been “fuggedaboutit.” But we will never forget. We will always remember your kindness, your compassion, and your prayers.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we don’t won’t to seem rude, but we really have to get back to work.
With sincere thanks.
New York, N.Y.