The first time I arrived in New York, I took a yellow taxi from JFK. It was seven or eight in the morning after a red-eye flight and cold but the sky was clear and blue. There was a particular point when I realized, like so many millions before me, that I was driving into a movie set. That moment replicated itself over and over again over the following forty eight hours and never entirely left me as I trekked back and forth between London and Manhattan for the following year.
From the cab, Manhattan Island was a Polaroid of skyscrapers with the World Trade Center dominating one end. I could pick out other icons but the two towers structured the entire skyline.
It was 2000.
The following night, I found myself in the Windows of the World. It was loud and crowded and we didn’t stay too long. A few weeks later, I went up to the observation deck on top of the South Tower. The queue was huge but the staff marshaled us all through efficiently and politely. I don’t know where New York got this reputation for rudeness from. I never found New Yorkers to be anything other than helpful and courteous. The elevator was an express that left my ears popping and the view and the height were vertiginous. The Tower seemed to sway and the view went on forever in all directions. I had never been in such an explicitly high place in all of my life.
As the months went by, I got used to travelling through the subway under the Center and changing trains or walking back and forth along the streets in its shadow. The canyons (you don’t really need sunglasses in much of Manhattan – there are places where I swear the light never reaches the bottom), Broadway, Shakespeare and Co – all became part of the landscape of my working day.
On one of my last trips, a colleague invited me for dinner. They had a brownstone in Brooklyn with a view of the Towers across the river. A year later they saw the second plane crash into the south tower from the same deck.
By then, I was working for another agency in London. Still, pretty much all of us had either worked with or for companies based in and around the financial district and we watched the horror unfold that afternoon knowing that colleagues, acquaintances and friends of friends were right in the middle of it. I think I felt numb. People I knew were suddenly in the middle of a war zone. People they knew were dying. Most of us dropped any pretense at working and spent that day hovering over instant messaging and email waiting for news of people, ticking off mutual acquaintances one by one as they managed to get news out.
There are people who ushered me into the lift, who served me a drink in Windows on the World, who worked security, who went to work in the financial and media companies there, who attended briefings, stood on the top of the observation deck having their picture taken, men, women, children of all nationalities, who were murdered that day. They did not deserve to die any more than the hundreds of thousands murdered since in Iraq, Afghanistan, London, Libya and so many other places where a multitude of interchangeable hatreds continue to take the lives of innocents each and every day.
I don’t really know what else to say except that I’m thinking about these things here, at this moment and I’m again promising myself that somehow, I’ll try to do the least harm I can in this life. And to not hate. Most of all, not to hate.