New York City, October 2001: We walked from Central Park to the church on 21st. This church, like all the others in a town built on Runyan and Warhol, bleeds upwards to the sky in an ageless chiseled portrait of fight against the gallivant of a town whose purchase is an ageless sin.
Our walk was ceremonial, respectful to the invitation which had been proffered, but with no intention of acceptance. We had come to the agreement that we weren’t gonna broker those mighty steps up into the insides of that church and its sacred gathering. That service, it was about the faces and the names who had shared in the lives of those taken, and we . . . we were not a part of that. We were tourists. Not of a company or a precinct, and certainly not of that brotherhood lost. Our hosts had been gracious in the offering, but we didn’t merit entry into that church and we knew it.
We had trudged back from Central Park after breakfast, burning off the nervous energy of three days spent as volunteers at the 13th precinct inside the down under of mid town. The boys in navy blue, crisp and tucked firm, had invited us to a memorial service for the fallen.The city was ripe with memorial services in the days and weeks and months after September 11th. We knew we had to go, there. If not inside, we had to go there. So we did, and then we stood and watched, outside that church on 21st. We watched the advance of kilts and bagpipes, and then we watched the sea of navy blue uniforms, crisp and tucked firm, as they followed the music inside. Into a closure whose full degree was never going to come.
Once the procession had moved inside, our group decided on heading back to the hotel to rest up until dinner. The idea of rest wasn’t working for me, so I told the group I would meet up with them later. I had to walk.
I walked north, with ideas on Central Park. I found a corner grocery and I bought a pack of smokes to keep me company. And then I walked, hard and long and for the length of an afternoon that was heavy on clouds. I walked uptown and then I walked back downtown, stopping at intervals for a drink with strangers at one place and then another place after that. The undertaking felt ridiculous and the results sublime; to take part in the same old same of a carnival atmosphere while stuck in the middle of such a hellish proposition as the one that had been tendered. But I had to. I had to let the city still be the city to me. The city I grew up inside of. The city I left. The city I came back to. Again and again and again.
My walk whittled until the hotel was within sight, and that’s when I looked at my pack of smokes and I counted up. There were seven left. I had crunched thirteen into memory as I sewed my legs into concrete across a city’s afternoon. I stopped right there to celebrate the occasion by lighting up one more. And that’s when my ears grabbed onto a Mamas and the Papas spill that was screaming from deep inside the bowels of a souvenir shop chock full of red and white and blue. And so I stood there and I tugged hard at my last bit of ridiculous until the feeling went sublime.
I prayed. Not sure what for, not sure what to. But the feeling was upwards. And the mercy was true, and my legs, they were tired enough to let it go at that.