For all of us, the memories won't ever fade away.
I was in Budapest on the morning of September 11, 2001, assisting a team of human rights activists in investigating conditions in a psychiatric hospital where patients had at one time been confined in dog-sized cages. It was on a television at the back of a ward that I saw what I thought, at first, was a scene from a tasteless movie — the north tower furiously burning.
I managed to return to New York four days later. But deeply troubled by both the terrible loss of life and the prospect of future wars, I refused assignments. Finally, my wife and partner, Janine Altongy, persuaded me to accompany her to Lower Manhattan. Feeling the guilt of someone who hadn’t been doing his job, I set to work on what would, in time, become a book.
“It was bewildering,” I later wrote. “All the gloom, the acrid odor, the police blocking our every step, the smoking ruins that reminded me of Hiroshima, Sarajevo, Beirut. In the midst of the impersonal vastness of Manhattan hung thousands of portraits of people who had disappeared in the attacks.”
The missing-person posters weighed heavily on our minds. For the next four months, we walked the streets of Lower Manhattan, and peered from a rooftop into the piles of rubble that were still exuding an alien, sour yellow smoke. We interviewed families who were in mourning and attended memorial services and funerals for fallen firefighters. It was at the funeral of Firefighter Vernon Cherry that Janine made a sound recording of the drums and bagpipes that speaks, perhaps even more than the pictures, of the loss of life on that devastating day in September, 13 years ago.
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