Yesterday morning I received a call from a Hungarian radio reporter. "Tell me about 9/11," she said rather generally and I figured she just wanted some color for her program that would help Hungarian listeners understand the grief Americans are dealing with this day. That I feel like an uninvited guest at the memorial funeral of a celebrity -- I didn't tell her. Only a precious few -- and not necessarily journalists -- are skilled at communicating the grief of others. What I was able to share with her though was that the attack that took place 10 years ago is still a topic at each dinner party I've attended these past three years that I've been in New York. The question: "Where were you that morning?" -- cannot fail to generate a response everyone is eager to hear.
„I watched from inside the CNN building as the second plane hit the South Tower.” quivered my boss as he watched archival footage I used for my video clip on the 9/11 Memorial Museum. He volunteerly ran through his story even without looking at me. The ways of dealing with grief are as numerous as New Yorkers.
"Are New Yorkers scared? Are they on alert for another attack taking place on the anniversary?" came the next question from the reporter who obviously had read the reports regarding the extreme safety preparations taking place in the City. I felt that my obvious "yes" sounded somehow fake. But there was no time to explain the complexity of New Yorkers, who, almost by default, are never frightened, but who, at the same time, for the last 10 years have been prepared for being attacked again. Who do not know any other way of preparation than the extreme and who still shudder every time an airplane files over lower than expected.
For the last 10 years the City has continuously been on alert, in a trauma that came with the realization of its own vulnerability. This is why when the President, the mayor and the governor unanimously announce a state of emergency -- as happened two weeks ago when Hurricane Irene was approaching us -- 8 million people prepare with a discipline one can only find in the military. When I say "extreme," I think of the volunteers who knocked on each door located in the emergency zones to make sure folks took the evacuation order seriously.
For this Sunday Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York sent the following message: "If you do lock yourself in your house because you are scared, they're winning. If you don't let somebody else pray or say or you deny any rights to certain people -- that's exactly what they want. I don't think we should do that."
The reporter who interviewed me last morning said goodbye before I had the chance to ask for her name and to thank her for our seven-minute-long chat. A chat the crystalized for me a few things about the City that until now were disturbing shadows in the back of my mind. I wish I could have shared some of those "real" thoughts about the change in my feelings towards this place. I still think the same of New York -- a fanatically overrated, luxury-shanty populated mostly by egoists -- but today, on 9/11/11, I am not locking myself in my house. I'm taking the subway now, proudly and without fear as New Yorkers do.