Death has no color or ethnicity or race or religion or class these days in New York City. Among the men and women carrying pictures of their missing relatives and friends and holding them up before the TV cameras, is a distraught Pakistani woman grieving over her missing daughter who worked on the 85th floor of Tower 1. Then there is a tearful Bangladeshi man imploring everyone to help locate his cousin who had been begged by his 5 year old daughter that Tuesday morning not to go to work. In amazing, multicultural New York City, death and destruction has struck people from every place on the planet. Indians, Ghanaians, El Salvadorans, Australians, Russians, Chinese, men women and children, janitors and CEO’s, teachers and students, we have all felt the pain of personal loss. There is no other place in the world where death is global, as it is here in Manhattan. In the ultimate global city, death wears a global face, death has a battered, charred global body.
A meeting was held this morning of administrators and chairs of various departments of my college which is five city blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. The meeting was held in Harlem on West 125th street, far from the scene of devastation. The building where the meeting was held is a block away from former President Clinton’s new offices.
In addition to teaching near the demolished Twin Towers at a public college, I also teach psychology in a nursing school in Harlem, but even at that distance we are all affected. Some students cannot drive in or take the train and there are delays in everything we do. But parts of our lives are slowly returning to how it was before the horror. I will give a midterm exam next week because we must continue to complete our coursework and our nurses must graduate on schedule. We are physically far from the area of devastation. But our lives are tied up with the human struggle to live and hope that is continuing downtown.
My college downtown is off limits to us, indefinitely though we are all hoping we can try to return by October 1. I haven’t seen the devastation at my college but we are receiving reports from police and other sources. One of the campus buildings has been badly damaged and is lost to us for the rest of the academic year. Rubble from the collapse of 7 World Trade Center is piled up in front of it. Where will those classes meet? We don’t know.
The main building of my college has become a staging area for relief efforts. What does this mean? It has been shown on TV as a major backdrop for news reporting on every channel. The building lacks electricity, steam, phone, water, a/c and ventilation. The first two floors are occupied by a variety of emergency services using emergency generators. Firemen are sleeping in the cafeteria and the gym. The rest of the building is sealed off to protect the integrity of its contents. Reportedly, the ventilation system was shut off immediately at the time of the disaster to protect the building from contaminants and the Buildings& Grounds crew of the college has sealed off all doors and windows in trying to keep the building free of airborne debris. Clearly, the reopening of the college depends on the restoration of the necessary utilities and the evacuation of the emergency teams. It also depends on access for us and for the students. Without subway service and safe streets nothing can happen. We won’t open until it is accessible and safe. Thus, even the October 1 date is more projection than promise. We hope it will be sooner rather than later.
I am told there are hundreds of orange body bags awaiting transfer to the hospital and municipal morgues on the footbridge near Suyvesant High school next to my college. High school students at this elite public school have said they saw repeatedly, people jumping from the highest floors of the Twin Towers to escape the intolerable flames and heat from two wide body- planes sitting inside their offices. These youth will never be the same again, because of what they saw, smelled and heard and feared. We have reason to feel anguish for the future just as we have reason to hope for the future. Which will it be as the days pass?