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Ground Zero is still a delicate shell of what was once a powerful double monolith. All the members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, and New Yorkers exploring the site by bicycle, have traveled to lower Manhattan to bear witness to the unthinkable acts that took more than 6,000 lives there.

Our Traveler at Large, Tony Kahn, has just returned home from a visit to New York. He talked to the natives of the city and heard a lot of love pouring from their hearts. Here are some of Tony's observations of a place torn apart and yet still very much together.

Torn, but Together

by Tony Kahn, 9/28/2001

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For the wounded, the weary and the confused, traveling in circles is often the most comforting way to go.

So it's not surprising after the events of last September 11, the collapse of the World Trade Towers, the shutdown of the Statue of Liberty, the closing of Ellis Island, and the virtual occupation of New York City's streets and shores by the FBI, the Coast Guard and the Marine Reserves, tat the one tourist business keeping its head above water is Manhattan's Circle Cruise Line, back in business and offering its newly popular two hour tour of Southern Manhattan three times a day.

Early this week I decided to drive up from my home in Boston and spend the night with my old friend Mark Grashow in Brooklyn, and take the trip with him the following day.

We got up at 7 and armed with day passes rode the F train to Manhattan, the A train to the site of the attack for a brief look, the shuttle to Times Square and a cross-town bus to the 38th Street Pier in time to catch the 11 o'clock Circle Line Tour.

Over the years a microphone has been my way of getting close to strangers fast, but today just about everybody on board seemed eager to talk without prompting about where they'd been these past two weeks and what had brought them here.

Vasco Dones is a documentary film director from Switzerland.


On the other side of the boat I heard young voices speaking in Italian. A school group of some kind. Like teenagers everywhere, they sought their own company in groups of five or six. Like teenagers, they also looked periodically, and gratefully, toward two chaperones, a handsome middle aged American man and a younger, animated woman from Italy.


The Circle Line tour guide, Chris Mason, a native New Yorker, was taking a break at the midpoint of the trip and had a few minutes to talk before the ship completed the turn that brought Manhattan to our port side and pointed us back to the pier.


As we were leaving the boat, I ran into a Couples Therapist named Antra Borofsky from near my own home. After two weeks of trying to get to the city she'd found enough time free from work and family to drive in that day. Her job, she said, was helping people learn to listen more compassionately. She realized the events of September 11 that had made everyone that day into a New Yorker was, if not the single greatest outpouring of compassion in American history, then the greatest she was ever likely to see. She was eager to learn everything from it she could.


As we headed back to the pier I spent the last few minutes sitting with Mark. Early that morning, as Mark and I had stood looking at the debris field of the Trade Towers, we both talked about our reluctance to be there.


I'd watched the towers burn and fall on television far too many times to make sense of what I was seeing face to face. The one un-mediated view that Mark had had of the violence of September 11 had been enough. When he walked into the street near his home in Brooklyn and looked up there were the Trade Towers, impossibly, burning and heaving black smoke, totally silent in a clear blue sky. All he could think of was the people surely dying at that moment, so helplessly far away. Looking, that morning, at the twelve story pile of what had once been 220 separate floors, my impression was that it looked like every unearthly thing it had been called: a huge, amorphous cancer cell, picked at my giant cranes, a black hole that had turned everything within it featureless and flat, and from which nothing would ever escape. In its effect on passersby, each of them rendered solemn and silent, it was clearly one thing only - the planet's biggest and freshest mass tomb. Now, at the Pier, looking south, I did what I'd seen everyone do that morning, I looked at where the Towers had once stood, first down at the ground and then up, at the empty sky.

You could still see the Towers there, of course. No longer in space, but in time, marking the divide between a before and an after, for New York, America and the planet. The before is a lot easier to see. The after is still shaping up. Beyond the towers, far more clearly than most Americans have ever seen it, and far closer than we might have thought, was the rest of the world.

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