LETTER FROM NEW YORK CITY (late September, 2001):

Structural Damage -- but We Are Still Here

Dear -----:

Thank you for checking on how things are going. We are a hardy city with resilient people, but every day is a challenge, and everyone's challenge is a little different, and mine is my own, for whatever that is worth.

Everyone I know is intact. Even my cousins, who are police officers, are fine. I knew one woman who worked in the World Trade Center, but when I called her home, I found that she had changed jobs (and, therefore, locations) a couple of months ago. (She had worked on the 100th floor of one of the towers.) Based on what I saw, I don't think there was any way anyone could have evacuated a large part of the buildings. One of them was actually glowing orange from inside, below the point where the plane caused the initial structural damage.

A couple of hours after it happened, you should have seen Broadway, full of people evacuated ... but to where? The tunnels were closed. The bridges were closed. The subways were closed. Everywhere there were surreal images. Like one of those Godzilla movies. Even tough-guy construction workers stood around with their jaws hanging open. An Air Force fighter circled overhead, downtown.

One frightening angle is that there are many more targets here, making this a city that is still very vulnerable. We are downright porous. I fear going on the subway, going to Times Square, going near open marketplaces. I fear for the Statue of Liberty, which has great symbolic value and is particularly dear to me. In that sense, the terrorists are winning. I don't mean that I've become crazy with fear. I don't cower indoors. But I think twice before I head outside. I worry about where I'll be as I traverse the city. I imagine how far from cover I might be if something happens.

I have certainly tried to suspend my feelings about what happened at the World Trade Center, to the concern of some people I know, who wondered why I wasn't more upset, why I wasn't showing evidence of being disturbed. I suppose I wasn't ready. I'm not sure that I'm ready now, but I want to talk about what it's like here in New York, as the city continues to move toward some kind of healing process.

Today is especially bad; it's cloudy and overcast, with hints of rain, and it is chilly, and all these conditions are causing the atmosphere to hang at a low altitude (the clouds scraping the tops of tall buildings), and as a result of atmospheric conditions, the smell from the World Trade Center is wafting all the way up to Washington Square in the Village, a rare event -- it has only happened two or three times, when the wind was eccentric or the clouds were low -- and the smell is quite sickening and upsetting, a constant reminder of what is lost.

It's impossible to do any significant transaction in the city without being cognizant of what happened.

To begin where it began, one thinks of the morning of the disaster, standing on the edge of Seventh Avenue, avoiding the suddenly wild traffic, watching downtown, wondering what had happened, getting the news via pager that it was an attack, videotaping it for one's posterity (never suspecting that within the hour, the skyline would be changed forever and the tape would be al