All Things New
Ten Years Later
The hours ticked by. Finally, around 1 a.m. on September 12, CBS News signed off. We could go home.
Except that we couldn't.
The roads were closed. The subways and trains had shut down. We were stranded in the city. CBS was able to secure hotel rooms scattered around Manhattan, so a group of us headed out of the broadcast center and into the night, walking the several long blocks toward the Avenue of the Americas and our hotel.
The first thing we noticed: there was no traffic. On every corner was a cop or a soldier. We made it to Broadway, and I looked down toward Times Square and saw something I'd never seen before, or since: the entire area had gone dark. No neon, no lights. No people. It was deserted. We trekked the last few blocks and made it to the hotel and checked in.
It was almost 2 a.m., September 12th.
That was what I remembered, or most of it, from the day before. Now, looking out my hotel window, I had to find my bearings and figure out what to do. I needed to get back to the office. I threw on my clothes from the day before and made my way down to the lobby.
As I was checking out, I noticed someone checking in: a fireman. He still wore his heavy coat and helmet and boots.
And he was covered, head to foot, in ash.
Shaken, I left the hotel and walked a block east, and a couple blocks south, and then found myself a few minutes later standing in the doorway of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Morning mass was ending. The cathedral was dark and cool. I expected it might be crowded, but was surprised to find that it wasn't. I found an empty pew, and tried to collect myself.
A thousand stray thoughts wrestled for my attention. I wondered when I'd get home, when I'd see my wife, how family and friends around the country were coping. I felt restless, confused, worried—and frightened.
I got up and made my way to a row of candles at a side altar. I lit a small votive candle, crossed myself, and struggled to pray. But for what? My mind kept going back to the hotel lobby, and the ghost-like figure covered in ash, and the images that replayed again and again the day before. Help us, I prayed. Help. Us. After a moment, I left the cathedral, stepping out of the darkness into the brilliant September light. I turned north, and walked several long blocks back to CBS, and my office.
Later that day, the subways started working again, and I was able to make it home. For a few days after, there was a strange stillness to New York City that you almost never see. And there were other things—small details that served to remind you that the city had been changed. Walking up 57th Street at twilight, heading home after work, something caught my eye. It was a candle, in an apartment window. I saw more and more as I walked on—in windows, on stoops, on the sidewalk. New York isn't a city given to maudlin sentiment. But around the area, that scene was being repeated again and again, as people tried, somehow, to create makeshift memorials to those who were lost. Small candles began appearing everywhere—a way for the city to say: "There is still light. We won't let the dark take over."
And soon, too, there were pictures: photocopied images tacked to lampposts and bus stops. "Missing," they said. "Have you seen her?" "Last seen at WTC on 9/11." They papered the city in odd and unexpected places, and it was heartbreaking to see the days go by, and then the weeks, and watch the papers crumple and tatter and fade, until finally they were all gone.
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic Deacon serving the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY, and an award-winning journalist. He blogs at The Deacon's Bench.