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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 In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie.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

A New Yorker reflects on Thanksgiving 2001

It is Tuesday morning in New York and yesterday another plane fell from the
sky. It looks as if it is mechanical failure rather than terrorist activity
but I don’t think that is making any of this easier for us.

After the American Airlines crash yesterday, I was blue and restless and
decided that I needed some physical activity so I went to the gym. All eyes
were clued to the television sets, watching the unfolding news. It was
eerily familiar to the events of September 11 and, despite early indications
it was mechanical failure, there was a readiness to believe that it was more

You see, underneath our return to normality, we’re all waiting for the other
shoe to drop. And the immediate supposition yesterday was that AA 587 was the
other shoe, dropping.

As I was leaving the gym, the man exiting next to me just kept shaking his
head: I know they’re saying mechanical failure but, even so, it’s too much
for us to bear. Too soon to bear more.

And that seems to be the mood of the city. It’s just too much to bear. The
plane fell in Belle Harbor out on Long Island. 80 people from that little
town disappeared in the Twin Towers and now a few more have gone. People are
shaking their heads. It’s just so sad.

We have found solace in something strange. It is only a mechanical failure.
It’s just a mechanical failure. My friends and I find ourselves bemused by
this. It is a terrible event, a plane falling form the sky and taking with
it another 260 lives in this battered town. But it is only a mechanical

At a dinner last night with a friend, it was a catalyst to bring back
conversations about our wounded psyches. We were just beginning to feel a
little healed and then something else happened. And it wasn’t the other
shoe. Did that make it better or did that make it worse?

What it made us realize is this: we’re all waiting for something more to
happen. The unexpected can no longer surprise as much. And we have been
afraid to articulate our fear. Now we must. We are afraid. A visitor from
Israel said to my friend from dinner last night, "Welcome to my world."

Now, just off the phone with a colleague in Britain, I find myself laughing
at the witty presentation of the primal fear felt by an individual who has
decided not to fly today to the States. At three o’clock in the morning she
stared her cats in the face and said: I can’t do this. And I won’t! So
she cancelled. It would have taken too much valium to get her on the plane,
so much that she would have been worthless for the two days she intended to
be here and then she’d have to take more valium to get home. It wasn’t
worth it, not to sell television shows.

Yet another friend is here in New York for meetings and it was an act of pure
will that got her on the plane, not to mention a scotch or three.

It used to be that I felt safe up there. For several years in my life I did
a lot of international travel and it was wonderful to be curled up safe in
the cocoon of the plane, in the one place that a phone couldn’t ring and I
could gather my thoughts. Now, I confess, I’m not eager to head out to
California for business at the end of the month.

Yesterday has, according to the papers, made life worse for the airlines and,
in the 21st century, it is the airlines that knit us together as the
railroads did in the 19th century and first part of the 20th. They are vital
conduits for our business and social commerce and some of them are going to
be bankrupt at the end of the year by best guess.

It will be a grim Thanksgiving travel time. Last minute bookings may be
really down now.

This week it was my intention to write about Thanksgiving, that time of year
that we gather and are thankful, even if we are being driven crazy by the
people around us. They drive us that way because we love them and are loved
by them.

This year I am particularly looking forward to Thanksgiving. We closed last
week on a little getaway house in upstate New York, two hours by train north
of the city, on two acres of land, next to a creek. It is a small sweet
house that is warm and cozy and we will be going there with friends to
celebrate Thanksgiving. All four of us are New Yorkers, all of us were in
the city for 9/11. Our friends who are joining us are originally from
Australia who, like many people, find themselves now feeling bonded to the
city by having been here when it all happened.

The thought of going away for a few days to something simpler is a joyful
thought. Just before this all happened we had found this little house and
realizing it had everything we said we wanted in a place we decided that day,
September 7, to buy it. And as the weeks have gone on it has seemed an even
better decision.

At the closing the real estate agents told of city folks who arrived check
book in hand to buy houses because they wanted to get their children out of
Manhattan, some of them because they had to – they were from lower Manhattan
and the kids’ school was closed.
Some were coming because they wanted some place to feel safe. Barbara, our
agent, said that she was fielding calls with questions like: how many miles
to the nearest nuclear power facility?

I am glad now to have this place because there we have gathered all our most
precious things and books, putting them in one spot, surrounded by the peace
I think they deserve. In the mornings I can wake and watch the creek flow by
while I sip my coffee.

Our friend Andrew and his wife Cheryl and his sister Ruth came to visit last
weekend as we were putting away as much as we could until we solved our usual
house problem: what to do with the books I’ve carted across the country?
Andrew went down to the creek to practice his fly fishing with Ruth while the
rest of us slept a sweet morning sleep after a late night of friendly poker
while a fire burned in the Vermont stove.

Sitting there, with friends and laughter, I felt a serenity I had not felt
since September 11, a sense that I was, in that moment, absolutely safe from
outside events. It was, I know, an illusion but it was the shared illusion
of our lives before the 11th of September, before the event, the incident,
whatever words we have individually chosen to describe the moment when the
world shifted. It was wonderful to have that moment again, to drink deeply
of the illusion, to be far away from the reality that is this city right now.

Thanksgiving arrives and I am grateful that I have a place to retreat to that
will give me respite from the falling planes and the dreadful fear that laps
at the ankles of our lives. I am grateful that I have someone sharing my
life who will help me lift the turkey out of the oven and grateful I have
friends who are making the effort to join us there.

I am grateful that no one I love has been on the long lists of people missing
and confirmed dead and I am grateful that I have a deeper appreciation for
what is important. I am grateful that we keep getting up in the morning and
finding reasons to put one foot in front of another and I am grateful that
the walls we normally seal ourselves inside do not seem as necessary. I love
the openness and emotional honesty my friends have given me, as well as total
strangers. I am grateful that people are still looking out for one another
in large and small ways.

The other shoe may not have dropped. We will continue to wait for it and
while we wait we will continue to find ways to live triumphantly and we will
find a thousand things to be grateful for as we stay close to home for

And I will see all those things as I look out on my creek in the morning,
sipping my coffee, glad for a retreat, grateful that I am still here.