Each year on 9/11, I dust off this little essay and push it out into the world again because I don’t know what else to do. I always try to include one of Grant’s WTC photos with it, too. He has a couple good ones that, even though there’s no skating in them, still feel skate.
Today, I’m visiting NYC with my family, looking at colleges for my son Miles. He was only two and a half in 2001, and we were together when we first heard and then saw the news of the planes hitting the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Running and passing, passing and running, time has a way of getting away from us, but as it cycles around, it also reminds us that no matter how much water runs under the bridge, there are certain things we will never forget.
This piece was originally written for TransWorld Skateboarding on 9/12/2001. I think it ran the following month. I interviewed a ton of NYC skaters around that time, too, and within an issue or two after that, we ran an article with quotes and photos. It was a weird interval for everyone, not just skaters. No one could really escape what happened, but no one could really talk about it beyond, “Yeah. That really sucked.”
It hurts to remember 9/11 every year and what happened to those unfortunate thousands, but it’s also one of those collective consciousness days when, just for a second or two, we should hold each others hands to the fire so we really remember how hot on got on the block.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and The Twin Towers. Photo: J Grant Brittain
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santayana
“In light of the recent tragedies …” we’ve heard said over and over.
And then we tune out.
This is not to say that we haven’t felt the significance of what it meant to watch silently as “the second plane” quickly wedged itself between the 75th and 85th floors. It doesn’t mean we didn’t wince deeply upon hearing of one man’s charred skin slipping completely off in the helpful grip of a good Samaritan. And it doesn’t mean we didn’t cover our mouths, or shake our heads, or mutter, “oh, shit,” at the real-time horror of the sky falling, knowing that it didn’t matter what we did. At that moment, with the word “LIVE” in the upper left-hand corner, thousands upon thousands of people were in the process of breathing their last breaths all at once.
Things have fallen apart.
It’s today when you realize that almost nothing matters, especially skating.
To tie all this up into a digestible package of catch phrases, lies, and punctuation that cleverly relates to skateboarding seems less than fruitless and ultimately the act of a very stupid person.
Planes are now bombs, buildings are now rubble, people are now gone. And so we tune out; we turn away from the screen; we go sadly about our daily routines. Labor. Scrape. Ache. Working to keep the memory of those touched, all the while forgetting just enough so when you hear the first jet engine of the rest of your life, you don’t freeze in your tracks, hunch your shoulders, and wait for what’s next.
The marquee in front of the movie theater cheers, “U.S.A. Too Strong!”
Your professor lights a candle on her desk everyday before class.
Your mail carrier smiles and says, “god bless,” as he hands you a glossy handful of direct mail advertisements.
Things fall further apart and skateboarding still seems trivial.
The weight of the unlit events that ticked away on the first Tuesday of this past September has radically shifted our future paths and will never be lifted from the collective shoulders of the human race. No matter how much we puff up with patriotism, petition publicly, peddle our wares, or tune out, it’s all on us now. Our new calling is to never forget how we felt during those first few seconds the world changed — hauling those memories with us wherever we go, whatever we do.
Of course, skateboarding isn’t important, but today that’s exactly what makes skateboarding matter more than ever. As long as you can go push around, you can also remember; and as long as you remember, others will never forget.