The connection between the state of New York’s Ground Zero and the way Americans are coping with grief from 9/11.
Last night’s 60 Minutes had a fascinating, infuriating piece about Ground Zero, the big hole in New York that still remains after the Twin Towers fell almost a decade ago. The piece follows the perspective primarily of Larry Silverstein, the “New York real estate tycoon” who had hopes to revive Ground Zero into something more splendid even than what stood there before. Actually, to be honest, I never thought the Twin Towers were all that interesting to look at, but I respect their significance, even before 9/11.
About 3 years after September 11th, I started to hear people wonder out loud why nothing outside of cleanup had happened at Ground Zero. Over the years since, it has flared up in the media in waves occasionally, but for the vast majority of the time no one has been talking about it in any truly public voice that I’ve heard.
The interviews and perspective presented last night on 60 minutes were grisly to say the least. According to them, it has been a combination of bureaucracy, faulty leadership and a lack of effective communication that has stopped a number of riveting skyscrapers, a beautiful memorial and museum, and a freaking sweet train station. Though some buildings may be done by 2014 (only 13 years after the disaster!), the majority of them do not have a set construction date, which may mean never ever ever.
Now there’s just a big empty hole. It’s ugly, useless and eating up billions of dollars. A hole is what remains from the most traumatic moment in American history. Though I have no doubt that 60 Minutes was right in saying that it is primarily disorganization and selfishness that is stopping Ground Zero from going forward. But one thing 60 Minutes didn’t cover, probably intentionally, is the fascinating metaphor that can be drawn between the United States and this hole.
How does a child act after she has been traumatized? Imagine a little boy who’s mother and father were killed in a car accident, or a teenager who is dealing with physical abuse.
How did we act after September 11th? We were scared, and angry, and confused. Shell shocked and enraged, we lashed out, and quickly. We punched and kicked two nations that weren’t responsible, but were simple targets. We turned on ourselves, almost like a schizophrenic; we simultaneously berated ourselves and lifted ourselves on a pedestal. In short, we did not act very rationally after 9/11. We were like a child. Which makes sense, as we are still such a young nation.
So, if you’re still with me on this analogy. America is no longer shocked. We have accepted what happened, though I don’t think we’ve gotten to starting to think about the true, actual reasons why it happened. That comes later. First we must grieve. Grieving is the most important step to moving on with things, which is what our nation desperately needs. We must let go of that day, not forget it, but reconcile with it. But we can’t do that until we all truly stop being angry. Angry at ourselves and angry at anyone else involved. Just like childhood trauma, a young nation’s first trauma is the most haunting.
I imagine some people will read this as unpatriotic. I admit, I don’t have anyone close to me who died as a result of these attacks. But I do know that what our nation has become since 9/11 is not a healed creature. We are deeply wounded, and the severe split that those two planes ripped between the people of this country has done nothing but get wider and wider since. We have split so far apart, that now I seed a terrible, sad, hole in the center of all things American. Our fear that we transformed predominately into anger rather than national sadness has ripped a hole right through us.
But imagine if we didn’t do it that way. Imagine if we had built up around that split. Taken the pain and turned it into something more healthy and stronger: a better version of our previous self. That is what we could have done.
And that is what we could have done at Ground Zero. If the bureaucrats in charge can’t pull together and move forward on the project, perhaps it’s partially because we can’t move on as a people. It’s easier to leave it as a hole than it is to say goodbye to what was destroyed there.
These two things effect each other in an infinite cycle. If we were to fill the void at Ground Zero with a park, a museum, a sky screaper, a memorial, a train station, a green house, whatever as long as it were new and fresh and beautiful, we would have an easier time moving on as a country. It wouldn’t be a sick reminder in the back of our collective head, but something to refresh us and help us let go. In the same vein, if we were to let go, to both give out and seek out apologies, it might be easier to replace what was knocked down in New York City.
Or am I way off the mark here?