It was nine years ago today that I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic atop the Triboro Bridge, just a few miles north of downtown Manhattan and watched the fireball erupt from the South Tower of the World Trade Center, knowing that it was the precise region of the building where friends worked. In fact, I witnessed three of their incinerations: sudden, deliberate, and unprovoked.
For as agonizing as the attacks were to see unfold before me on the bridge that day, the worst was yet to come. It was the stress of the aftermath.
Because all bridges were closed within New York City within moments, I was unable to get home to my wife and two babies until 3 AM, only to be jolted out of a restless sleep by the sound of fighter jets flying combat air patrols making their turn over our house. We were a nation with sterilized air space and a city with an aircraft carrier offshore sending squadrons of combat jets to protect us.
The sight of physicians and nurses pacing about in the streets outside of St. Vincent’s hospital waiting to lavish their care on the thousands of victims who would never arrive. Parks, street corners, walls filled with posters of missing persons, posted by desperate loved ones. Looking out of our bedroom window from the hilltop we lived on with a commanding view of the New York harbor, night after night, after night, the sky glowed over lower Manhattan from the fires that would burn for months. The endless replays of people jumping to their deaths, of the buildings collapsing.
Then came the worst of all. As I commuted to and from work after grad school, my commute took me over the Brooklyn Bridge a mile from Ground Zero: the unforgettable stench of close to 3,000 corpses deliquescing in the mountain of rubble, my friends and neighbors among them.
We were a city that was stopped dead in our tracks. The indomitable New Yorkers simply stopped, as time stood still. Then something at once beautiful and incongruous happened. It lasted for months. We were courteous to one another on the road. No road rage. No honking. No mad dashing. We were actually deferential. That ocean of goodness in the hearts of New Yorkers, so often masked by the hectic pace of our city’s life, came bubbling to the surface. We felt acutely the bonds of kinship in our common humanity.
As Shakespeare had Henry V say after the Battle of Agincourt, “Here was a royal fellowship of death.”
It became evident when the shock began to wear off, when sometime the following January the streets began to sound more like the old New York. We had begun to heal.
In the months to come, I would learn the names of many more people that I knew from high school and college who perished that day, and for me healing would take a great deal longer than I had thought.
It is hard to forgive a rather large movement of people who seek to kill us simply because of who we are. Unlike the murderer who is apprehended and securely behind bars, the existential threat is real and ongoing. We are at war with men who declared their war on us. Their terms are clear: last man standing.
In this instance I simply do not know how to forgive. Nor do I feel so inclined. If ever a conflict qualified under the “just war” doctrine, this one qualifies. These murderers are equal opportunity killers, turning on fellow Muslims who do not share in their death cult. Does forgiveness not come after the war is over? Can we kill an enemy that we are simultaneously forgiving? Can we kill those we have already forgiven?
It is a unique challenge: to be committed entirely to upholding the dignity of all human life and being committed to a just war, meeting the murderers on the battlefield in a fight of their own choosing. The nations where they live are some of the most brutally repressive on the planet. Stonings, beheadings, amputations of limbs and sense organs as punishments, public hangings, burkahs…
They have chosen war as the means to advance their vision of the world, placing it between Christian civilization and their eighth century barbarism.
But choosing Christian civilization will require more than defeating the enemy wherever he hides and plots. Islam is overtaking Christianity in Europe simply because they are having large families and Christians are contraceiving and aborting themselves out of existence. France, Italy and Spain are projected to have Muslim majorities by the middle of this century. If radical Islam is patient, they will win through attrition.
We can’t very well blame them for having families as we commit civilizational suicide. Contraception, abortion, passive and active euthanasia, healthcare rationing, embryolethal research; ours isn’t such a pretty track record either.
In the interim, I am left with the memories of that terrible day nine years ago and its aftermath. They are memories that are a looking glass into the future if we do not come to our senses and turn from our own death cult a la Margaret Sanger, who is Catholicism’s Osama bin Laden.
And I feel lost. I simply don’t know how to forgive it all.