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Ode to NYC

Betty Medsger & John Racanelli

December 17, 2001

We came to New York from San Francisco nearly one and one-half years ago because we had grown to love this city. Now, like our fellow New Yorkers, we’ve gone through the profound emotions that were lit by the September 11 attacks – fear, loss, anger, grief, love – and find ourselves even more deeply immersed in the life of the city and still very glad to be here.

We live at the upper edge of downtown Manhattan, too far away from Ground Zero to be directly affected, but within the orbit of much of the aftermath. When we walk for more than a few blocks, we are likely to find remnants of signs of grief and loss. We frequently see the homemade signs, “missing,” and, days later, “in memory of” signs posted in public places by friends and family of those killed when the Towers collapsed.

We saw blocks of ambulances waiting for days to carry survivors who didn’t exist.

We saw teams of doctors and nurses who waited with gurneys for days outside our neighborhood hospital to care for patients who never came.

There are bad odors, depending on the direction of the wind.

There is a hole in the sky outside our living room window, where once we had a magnificent view of the Twin Towers. The Towers drew us to the window every morning and every night.

We think that only people who have lived in war-torn countries can imagine what it has been like here these past three months. But it’s only on the surface that everything looks normal. People in New York used to ignore sirens because they are part of urban life. Now, when sirens wail, you see strangers searching each other’s faces, probably looking for one whose calmness says, “Don’t worry. It’s routine, happens all the time.”

Meetings of residents in the most affected neighborhoods near the towers, we just learned, have been transformed from business-like issue-grappling sessions to events where people hug each other and weep as they gather. They are glad to be alive, glad to have each other, amazed at what they used to take for granted.

They are glad to be alive, glad to have each other, amazed at what they used to take for granted.

The spouse of one victim committed suicide this week. The wife of another is hanging stockings for her deceased husband, something she thinks will help her children. In front of firehouses, we still see the bouquets and children’s posters thanking the firefighters for their courage and their sacrifices. (You may recall that the city lost 343 firefighters that day.)

In the center of the deepest loss, signs calling for peace, not revenge, also were posted along with the memorials. A sign we saw taped on a bike near Ground Zero may express our view best: “Our grief is not a cry for war.”

But there is a war.

We wish that all of us here and throughout the country could turn some of the profound grief and anger we feel about the violence and loss that occurred that day into empathy for comparable and worse losses that have occurred in other parts of the world. It is unlikely that fanatics like Bin Laden could have recruited any of his martyrs and other supporters except for the enormous rage and anger at the U.S. that seethes in that part of the world.

We are very happy that our six grandchildren– and their wonderful parents -- visited us in our new home this year, as did many friends. Despite the terrible events, our daily life here continues to be an enriching experience and fulfilling adventure.

Sorry if we sound like one of those NY tourism commercials, but it is still a wonderful city.

© Betty Medsger & John Racanelli

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