September 19 , 2001
Notes from Clifford A. Pearson Senior Editor
My wife and I werent sure we wanted to be on the right
side of the plane. Like everyone else, we had seen all the
television footage of the towers being hit, the towers on
fire, the towers crumbling. We had seen the shots of wreckage
piled seven stories high and the rescue crews crawling through
it. After a week in the Canadian Rockies, surrounded by unspeakable
beauty, we were coming home to New York, unsure if we were
ready to see the horror firsthand.
We live just 20 blocks north of the Trade Center and had
always told visitors to our apartment in Greenwich Village
to look for the twin towers when they got out of the subway.
Cant use those directions anymore. The Trade Center
wasnt a beloved landmark of mine, but it was handy and
was a distant but reassuring presence in our lives. In the
23 years I had lived in New York, it had always been there.
So in my mental map it was as permanent as the Empire State
Building or City Hall or Central Park. Like a lot of friends,
it might not have been the best of its class or the most popular,
but it was reliable. Always there. As I get older, I value
As our plane approached the New York, we saw the East River
come into view. It was past 10 pm and the lights of the city
sparkled through the crisp clear night sky. Many of the great
buildings, however, werent shining that night. As precautionary
measures, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Citicorp,
and other architectural icons were kept dark. They seemed
to be in mourning, dressed in black, for their lost colleague.
The plane headed south and we braced ourselves for the shock
of seeing the familiar skyline disfigured. The first time
you see a friends scar is always the worst, I told myself.
Eventually, you get used to it, dont notice it anymore.
We saw the cloud at the same moment, a soft blur illuminated
by batteries of cold floodlights. It looked like a cauldron
filled with dry ice: part special effect, part vision of hell.
It was quiet but angry, dwarfed by the towers still standing
but profound in the absence it represented. We couldnt
stop looking at the vapor that once was steel and glass, gypsum
and stone. The twin monoliths had literally disappeared in
a puff of smoke.
Then the plane banked and it was gone.