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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

September 1, 2002

This past weekend I was back in Minnesota, again, for an annual weekend
when the boy's school I went to holds its annual alumni dinner. There
are no more class reunions - just an annual all class get together that
provides a reason for my brother -also a graduate of the same school -
and several friends from my high school years to get together and see
each other and celebrate our still being here-ness.

On Friday night I had dinner with one of my best friends from college
and we talked about being in New York during 9/11 and I recall
realizing, while sipping a very lovely Pinot Grigio and watching a flood
of a rainstorm, that I felt more raw than I had realized.

The next morning I had breakfast at a diner that has graced our
neighborhood since before I was born, with a group of my cousins. They
asked me all the questions: where was I? What was I doing? How did I
feel? And, to my dismay, I discovered that I had to excuse myself for a
moment from the table, as I found that I was about to break down
completely, in sobs.

The wound is still open, slightly scabbed over but painful to the touch.
My cousin's questions rubbed the scab away and for one quick minute I
was not at a breakfast table in Minnesota but on West Broadway on the
morning of 9/11, watching the Towers burn while a stream of refugees
moved north, all of them either stunned or sobbing.

As I write this the background noise is the television, tuned to News
Channel One, the local cable news channel which is turning out a steady
stream of stories these days as we march toward the 9/11 anniversary.
There are meetings all over the Boroughs asking for input on what to do
with "the hole." And they are letting people know that those who suffer
mental health problems as a result of 9/11 can apply to the September
11th Fund for reimbursement of their medical expenses.

I wonder if there is anyone who has not been mentally affected? I know
I have been. I spent time on the phone in October with my California
based therapist because I knew an unnatural darkness had settled on me
after the 11th that I had to acknowledge and deal with. And as I worked
out my sense of darkness, I wondered about all those people around the
world who do not have the resources to avail themselves of mental health
professionals while their countries are being torn apart by war and
terrorism. I can only imagine the toll on people in Bethlehem,
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Kabul and Karachi.

Last night my friend Dalton, a native New Yorker, was in town from D.C.
and after dinner we walked toward "the hole". It was the first time he
had been there and it had been a time since I had been close. To my
surprise, as we walked down Washington Street, the usual barricades were
gone and it was possible to walk to the very edge of the hole and see
the emptiness. We hadn't been there long before the workers, very
politely, asked us to move. The barricades had been down to allow
several vans to enter and exit.

We walked on, to another place, where the view was as good [is there a
good view of the spot of a disaster?]. There were several dozen other
people at this second place, all standing there in a solemn silence,
looking into the concrete hole, shielding their eyes against the
brilliant light of the spotlights that run, day and night, every day. A
young man came up to Dalton and asked him to help him hang a memorial
flag he had made, an US flag with messages on it from firefighting units
up and down the east coast. He came here regularly to display it, when
it was not on display elsewhere. It was his own small, special project
to honor the dead.

We are scurrying to make sure memorials are erected in time for the
anniversary. Photos of the fallen firefighters have been added to the
Spring Street Museum while over at the Intrepid there was a ceremony
this morning, unveiling a Memorial to all who died that day, debris from
the Towers moved and re-erected.

Dalton looked down into the hole and I looked up at the buildings that
surround the hole. Some of them have re-opened; some of them look like
they are the remnants of the Blitz. Old buildings boarded and shrouded
with netting, waiting for someone to decide if they are salvageable or

It seemed impossible to me that I was in New York. I mean, New York!
When I turned back to Dalton, he said to me, "It has shattered our
confidence." And I could only nod, because it has. And the personal
seeing of this place, this "hole" only reinforces the sense of shattered
confidence while at the same time forcing a sense of quiet, awful awe
upon the person - it has, Dalton said, the strange quiet solemnity of
places like Dachau, where terrible things have happened and which
continue to reverberate - as this will, long after I am gone, long after
this column has ceased.

In the quiet and the brightly lighted darkness, surrounded by the ghost
buildings of disaster and faced with an enormous hole where once stood
two of the world's tallest buildings, I felt, more strongly than I have
ever felt, the need for a memorial, a place for those of us who have
lived through all of this, to go in years to come to think and to
reflect and to pray and to hope.

The destruction of the Towers represents some turning point in our
history, the road to be followed still to be determined. We march
forward but as we go forward we are looking back to this spot, hoping
that we will not be turned to salt, like Lot's wife