Then the planes hit.
At 8:46 am, three blocks from impact, my wife was dropping Gaby at first grade. "People in the top floors are throwing furniture out the windows," Viviane would later recount. She wasn't wearing her glasses. Those weren't chairs. Bodies were free falling.
It was a painful, absolutely horrific time. So many families lost so much.
The one silver lining (a term I hate) was how New Yorkers -- and our city -- instantly changed.
This anonymous, crowded, sharp-elbowed bustling place suddenly became gentle. We genuinely cared for one another, witnessing and participating in innumerable acts of kindness. We couldn't articulate it, we certainly didn't choose it, but each of us had fundamentally acknowledged our mutual humanity. On the subways, you knew. The city's entire vibe had gone Midwestern.
No matter where you lived, we were all New Yorkers on the same team. Common creatures, proud and angry, reeling in devastation and terrible hurt and above all, deep down, terrified to the bone.
In those dire straits, your world irrevocably changed, you don't cope by yourself. We needed one another. And we acted the part. We were nicer, more polite. We slowed a step or two. We became Dr. Seuss characters. Skin color didn't matter. Who cared how much someone earned. Cops were on a pedestal. The Mayor was our Savior, rock and unquestioned leader
Mean streets became avenues of utopia. The pile still burned (it smelled like burning computers thrown on a human barbecue) but our patented brusque coarseness was refined and buffed to a Mayberry-like folksy softness.
The months wore on. The bagpipes faded. A war commenced to satisfy our desire to lash out just as we were attacked. And nearly imperceptibly, the respectful, loving metropolis that New York had implausibly become slowly began to fade away.
And here we are today -- an us-against-them City. But "them" isn't a raging fanatic in a cave. It's the young cop, the kid whose pants are falling down his backside. Our great differences are politicized. Rancor rules. There's no time to be polite. Are you kidding me? I'm walkin' here! The Opportunity of 9.11 has been squandered. A Silver Lining has turned jet black.
Finally, 13 years after the planes, the ground zero Museum is up and running. You can get your 9.11 T-shirt. But our improbable brotherhood ain't for sale. It's been permanently lost.