At least, that's what had affected me most, in reading about the World Trade Center, or talking with responders. But five years out, the real impact and pain may not come from looking back, but in looking at us now. That was the resounding message of this week's New Yorker (the cover recounts Phillipe Petit's famous tightrope act between the towers -- now, he's literally walking on thin air) .
Roger Angell, who usually writes about baseball and boat trips, absolutely floored me with this brief piece, the end of which is excerpted below:
Those of us in our eighties or late seventies can still remember when this was called a young country (it was said all the time in school) and, if we lived in New York, retain the vision of earlier iconic towers—the Empire State, the Chanin Building, the George Washington Bridge—going up, week by week, to prove the point. The Depression and Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal and Dachau and Hiroshima aged and toughened us, to be sure, but perhaps not as much as the History Channel would have it. In the early sixties — in our forties, that is — we suddenly cheered up when some historian noticed that the late, Massachusetts-born, white-mustachioed Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who had served on the bench into the nineteen-thirties, had in his long lifetime shaken hands with John Quincy Adams and also our new incumbent, John F. Kennedy. How young we were, after all!
None of us, no one in the world, holds such a notion today. Our United States feels as old as Tyre. Also anxious and bloodied; also short of sleep. What’s a shock, as this special September comes along, is that 9/11 is only five years back. Boys and girls born that spring and summer are entering kindergarten this year, and before they leave elementary school will have learned and tucked away the date in about the same place as Antietam and the typewriter and the Great Plague—that is, if they’re paying any attention at all. We worry about them, as elders do, but what we know about them that they don’t is that they are the older generation. Even while this ancient, inescapable irony dawns, we think back more often to a deceased parent or to a friend gone too early, to a favorite teacher or poet or departed doubles partner—anyone who died before September 11th—and wish ourselves that free again, and that young.
The New Yorker's architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, nails home the point with a little less poetry:
Amid all the squabbles and revisions, it’s unsurprising that so many people who once cared passionately about Ground Zero have simply lost track of the developments there and have stopped caring. This summer, the success of the first movies about 9/11, and acclaim for a clutch of important novels dealing with the subject, showed that the public is still hungry to make sense of the tragedy and what it means for America. But they are no longer looking to architects, contractors, and developers for answers. By the end of the day on September 11, 2001, it was clear that the terrorists’ act had enormous symbolic power in the eyes of the world, and, in the months that followed, a consensus arose that whatever happened at Ground Zero should make a powerful symbolic statement of our own—of the values that America, and New York, stand for. Five years after the terrorist attacks, the saddest thing about all the many absurdities surrounding the rebuilding—the personal wrangles and group rivalries that have obscured any sense of commonality, the pious statements masking an utter lack of conviction, the maxed-out budgets and cut corners — is that they may say a lot more about us than we’d like to think.
Indeed, browsing through the criticism and disappointment over the Freedom Tower, from the architects, students and fanboys over at Wired New York, has been instructive. The appeal of the original World Trade Center was not simply its boxy bulk, but the fact that this mass was duplicated. It commanded attention, even as you searched for an facet to focus on. The new 1WTC shirks that, instead seeming to superimpose the twins into one slightly taller but thinner building.
But today, the designs for World Trade Center Towers 2, 3, and 4 were unveiled. We already knew the site would feature the western hemisphere's tallest building -- now it looks like the site will have two additional towers to rival the height of the Empire State Building, and another tower as tall as the Citicorp. There are no twins, but rather, a very well-nourished set of siblings.
It's dizzying to think what downtown will look like in a few years, with four neighboring skyscrapers under construction. Comparing the scene to images from the twin towers' rise, it should be enough, I think, to make anyone feel young again.