Having the world at my feet

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

We all have images of the World Trade Canter forever imbedded in our personal histories. My strongest memories of the Twin Towers, however, have nothing to do with terrorists and planes, smoke and flames, death and destruction. What I remember is the wind, they city below me, and an epiphany.

I was 15 and visiting New York City for the first time as part of a church youth exchange. Our hosts, who ewer actually in Perth Amboy New Jersey, shared urban ministry with us - when they weren't trying to show "us pore ole

misguided Southerners" the error of our ways by making us watch the entire Roots miniseries. We traveled to Manhattan and visited synagogues, cathedrals, mosques, and churches of almost every denomination. We toured Harlem and Soho, the Bowery and the Bronx. We saw homeless people huddled in the August heat at the base of the Arch in Washington Square Park, and we saw Monet's work at the Met.

It was love at first sight for me, that crowded, sullen, busy city. In Little Italy, I dropped out of the tour group and explored on my own, fearless (and, no doubt, nave) but feeling completely at home in New York. The incredible tempo, the constant visual simulation, even the nasty tempers of the natives - all served to distract me from grief. My father had died only two months before the trip. When I wasn't wallowing in self-pity and grief, I was angry and bitter.

On the last day, we went to the World Trade Center and took the elevator to the top of one of the towers. I stood as close as I could to the edge and looked 106 stories down. It is an awesome feeling, standing there at fifteen, with the world literally at your feet. Thinking along the lines of most teenagers, I knew, at that moment, I was, in fact, the center of the universe.

Then a motion caught my eye. Down ion the street, a bus navigated traffic, tiny toys on a distant playground, and I began to wonder about those in the bus. What were their lives like? Were they going home to someone who loved them or to an empty apartment? Had a single one of them known the horrible grief of a fifteen-year-old girl who had just lost her father?

I was nave, but not stupid. Of course they had. I looked over that city, awed by the concept of its numbers, humbled by the realization that of the millions and millions living there, most, if not all, had known my grief and much, much worse.

The wind blew, and I could feel the building sway beneath my feet, my foundation less stable than I had thought. It moved, but it was solid and it was real. I realized, at that moment, that my father was gone, but the foundation he laid for me was not. It may have been shaken, but it was still there to support me.

On September 11, as I watched "my" tower collapse, I felt that foundation swaying once again. The buildings, like my father, and now my mother, are gone. What they represent, the spirit of the American people, the determination to succeed, remains as strong as ever.