9/11, Derek Jeter, & the Memory of Time.

The 9/11 Memorial (Photo by Steve Villano)

It’s one of life’s oddly poetic moments to be back to NYC for the 20th Anniversary commemoration of 9/11, in the very same week Derek Jeter got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the very same weekend the Yankees were playing the Mets in a subway series.   It was Jeter, after all, and the Yankees, who picked up many of us New Yorkers,  after we were numbed by the death and destruction of 9/11. 

The Yankees were having a banner year in 2001, headed for another World Series after beating the Mets the Year before, and the promise of a 4th Consecutive World Championship was on our minds.  Twenty years ago,  on the night before 9/11,  I was at Yankee Stadium with my college friend Phil Cantor, and my son, Matt , and a few of his friends. We were there to see Roger Clemens pitch against his former team, the Boston Red Sox, and–we hoped–win his 20th game of the season.  Our spirits were soaring; everything was within our reach.

It poured for hours that night, and before we headed into the Stadium, Phil and I stayed dry by having pastrami and corned beef sandwiches in the Bronx’ famous Court Delicatessen, a landmark for Yankee Fans. The “Court” as we called it–just down the block from the Bronx Courthouse, was not its usual jam-packed self that night, the driving rain keeping most sane folks away. We lingered in a booth for over an hour, talking about little things and big things, and simply enjoying being with a friend I’d known from when we were both 19 years old.

The rain was still coming down in sheets when we dodged under covered doorways and under the El Train to get to the old Yankee Stadium.  We found my son and a group of his friends, sitting in a rain-sheltered section of reserved seats. Several generations of friends, each traveling different paths, were brought together by the prospect of seeing Clemens pitch, watching Jeter hit, and ragging against Boston—a national pastime for New Yorkers.

We talked and ate and drank for another hour or so, watching the rain form little rivers in the tarp on the field, laughing, and basking in the joy of each others’ company. It was a timeless moment, endless youth relived and shared with my son, and I wanted it to last forever. The game was cancelled, but we didn’t care; we celebrated life with each other for hours.  World without end, Amen.

The rain finally stopped that night, long after we left the Stadium, and the following morning, September 11, the sun was sparkling on a crisp and perfect September morning in New York.  Then time stopped, and the world, we once knew, ended.

Twenty years later, I was reminded how blue the sky was over New York City, when we awakened early on the morning of September 11, 2001.  Only this time, it wasn’t a violent storm that cleared the air, and brought such sparkling clarity. 

This time, it was one single wall at the 9/11 Memorial, on the site of where, 57 floors higher, I lived much of my life, working in Tower 2, now referred to as the South Tower.  The underground wall encased a massive tomb, holding the remnants of hundreds of souls who perished in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

On the exterior of the wall was a quotation from Virgil, etched in fragments of steel from the mighty towers that, impossibly, fell that day:  “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.”

The quote, coupled with the thought of human remains behind it, was staggering, transporting me back to Jerusalem, to the moment I first witnessed the Yad Vashem Memorial.   It was the wall, the tomb, the letters made of  crumpled World Trade Center steel, but most of all, it was the patches of blue squares–of varying shades of blue, really–which made me gasp.  

Each square patch of blue—one for every human being taken from us on 9/11—was a different tone, a different color, a different thought, representing all the individual, and collective memories we shared on the final morning of our youth, when Derek Jeter still represented our dreams of what was possible. 


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