We took a class field trip to New York City when I was a little boy. I can still remember the nervous excitement my classmates and I experienced as we gathered around the atrium of the “tallest buildings in the world.”
The recently completed construction of these two behemoths captured headlines every night on the New Jersey news channels.
As we stood at the base in the cold concrete shadow, we felt as if we were about to make history. Looking up at the gap between the polished steel and glass structures filled us with a sense of awe. It was incomprehensible.
The crowded elevator ride to the top seemed to take forever, but when the doors finally opened and the sunlight streamed in, my buddies and I bolted for the edge. We ran to be first to the fence, but as our senses took over, our run slowed to baby steps as we approached the seemingly bottomless gap rushing at our feet. With mouths agape, we gripped the chain-link fence and held on for our first glimpse at the depths below. Buses were the size of ants. It was incomprehensible.
Our guide cautioned us not to throw anything over the edge. He said that a mere falling penny could put a hole in the roof of a taxicab and kill a man when dropped from these heights. He explained how the towers were built to flex in the wind and how we could line up a pole on one building and see the movement, up to a foot and a half, in comparison to its dancing neighbor. A few faint-hearted souls, including our teacher, moved back to the elevators. After all, it was a windy day and the movement was quite noticeable. It seemed incomprehensible.
Within a year or two of our visit, a small man with big intentions had an idea to capitalize on the grandeur of this engineering marvel. A daredevil named Philipe Petite built a legend when he managed to tie a cable in between the tops of the World Trade Towers. He then walked from tower to tower on the tightrope without any safety devices. The world watched in awe of his achievement. In the same breath, every reporter on the scene wondered out loud how he managed to breach security and affix a cable between the tallest buildings in the world. It was incomprehensible.
My photos from another trip to New York City in 1991 remind me of carefree days where the amazing feats of men could be seen and felt around every corner of that bustling city. The World Trade Towers dwarfed the skyline and represented the apex of man’s accomplishments there. Two years ago on this day, a handful of bad men sent the towers and all the occupants crashing to the ground. It was, and still is, incomprehensible.
In the aftermath, we’ve all searched for meaning. My dad says, “Some people always build up, some people always destroy.”
If I could run a tightwire between my thoughts and yours, I’d walk across and ask you to build. Anger and fear may be what toppled the towers, but love and compassion can resurrect and redefine their meaning, redefine us. The memory of the souls lost deserves nothing less than our best effort to build a better world.
Silt resident Bernie Boettcher searches for meaning every other Thursday in the Post Independent. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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