Moon Over Manhattan
I took a cab home on Sunday night. The sky was completely clear, and as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge I could see the planes lining up to land at La Guardia, while a low-hanging half-moon illuminated the bay and the Statue of Liberty, framed by the lights of southern Manhattan and the traffic on the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn.
It had been an intense few days. My brother came to visit, and that meant I could experience the city beyond the daily round of commuting to and from work. My brother hadn't been to NYC since 2000, so he wanted to visit Ground Zero
. Although it is now functionally a building site, the place still retains a discretion and solemnity, and visitors were quiet and thoughtful as they looked at the timeline of that day and read the names of the dead. We walked to the Winter Gardens
of the World Financial Center, and out onto the walkway of Battery Park City
, partly created out of the rock and rubble that was dug up so the World Trade Center could be constructed. There we came across a memorial
that lists every police officer killed in the line of duty since the mid-19th century. To my shame, I confess I didn't know it even existed.
We walked along the promenade on a cold, blustery, but sunny day until we came to the Museum of Jewish Heritage
, a beautifully organized and evocative celebration of the legacy of Jewish heritage to the world and to America in particular, and a stirring and deeply moving exploration of all facets of the Holocaust.
We then crossed the road and visited the Skyscraper Museum
, which featured, not surprisingly, more on the World Trade Center and its construction. We then visited Federal Hall
, where there was yet another reminder of 9/11 in a fascinating exhibition, called the Living Memorials Project
, that catalogued the nearly seven hundred memorials of various sorts to the victims of 9/11 that have sprung up around the United States in the last five years: copses, pathways through woods, gardens, even trees planted on medians or in parking lots. Some memorials were large-scale and obvious; others were tucked away and barely noticeable. All, in some way, had become living gestures of grief and remembrance. My brother and I then strolled up Broadway until we came to St. Paul's Chapel
, which had survived the World Trade Center explosion, despite being covered in debris, and had, over the days and months following 9/11, become a sanctuary, haven, rest-stop, gathering spot, and inspiration to the emergency services and volunteers.
The day after next, my brother and I visited the Museum of the City of New York
, which not only had an exhibit about New York theater (my brother is a musical theater buff), but had a beautifully produced and very informative documentary called Timescapes
about the history and growth of New York, which I'd recommend to anyone.
Last night, my brother having gone home, I went and saw the new Clint Eastwood film, Flags of Our Fathers
, a moving and disturbing film about the battle for Iwo Jima in particular, and the costs of war in general, that, in spite of some sappiness, is shocking and wonderfully well realized. It was after that movie that I took the cab ride, and saw the moon lighting up Liberty Island and the island of Manhattan.
I thought of all those people who had gone before whose lives had fallen like snow
, silently and undemonstrably: the soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima or the civilians who perished in the Holocaust, and who the film and the museum had recalled as named, loved individuals among the mass slaughter; those who died on 9/11 and were honored and remembered at the World Trade Center, the police memorial, and at St. Paul's. I thought of how, somehow, something of their experience had contributed to what I saw from my cab window: the slow accretion of lives over 450 years constructing an extraordinary experiment in civilization on a series of islands. For a brief moment, I felt the importance of an individual life flare into significance; and for the thousandth time I fell in love with New York City all over again.