Laughing In Osama’s Face
New Yorkers have come together in welcome ways in the year since 9/11. We stop and talk to strangers on the street. We try to help each other well before we formally meet. Or we join in funerals for firemen we never knew, raising money for their families, while recognizing each other from September’s recovery teams. These are lessons in community we’ve needed for a long time. But the bonds that tie us when commemorating loss are missing something vital. There is something critical that we must capture, hold up before our eyes, and focus on before it is too late, before our scars congeal in the backward-facing form of in memoriams.
New York is not just a city of concrete. It is not just a city of glass. It is not just a city with ribs of steel. It is not a city of mourning. It is a city aborning. New York is a spirit, a flicker, a flame. New York is a city whose brilliance is born in the strange. It’s a mega-nest for those who were too bright, too adventurous, too pregnant with imaginings. It’s a giant hive for those who did not fit back in Wilmington or Waterbury or Waxahachie. New York is a place for those who cannot squeeze themselves into the America of the everyday. It is a gathering place for those who cannot just be normal, joke around, party, and play, those who can not be content with a life of nothing but beer and football games. New York is a city of those who find that something out of kilter with the ordinary, something odd, unnamable, teases and tickles their brains.
Those who had no one to understand them come here and find they suddenly have a home. We New Yorkers are the oddballs, the misfits, the outcasts, the brilliant, the vision-ridden, the eerie, the nerdy, the incomprehensible, the bizarrely gifted, the ghosts of futures searching for a home, the restless souls who elsewhere have no grounding, who, without New York, are forced to roam. Here we strange ones, we too-swift-ones, we who open strange emotions, feelings haunting others but which today’s words won’t yet let them say, we who see new passions, new astonishments, new forms of theater, new ways to dance, new cinematic visions, new prose, new jokes, new poetry, new fashions, new ways to work and play, we gather here and find each other. Here we come together in strange packs, new kinds of tribes. Here those who had no place in the heartlands help give each other friendship, energy, brainstorming sessions, lives.
New York can not be shattered, it is a bonfire of the spirit, it’s a flickering twist of connectivity. I, the strange, find you, the strange, and together we set others free. I feed you when your soul’s on fire, support you when you drown in mire. And you, you do the same for me. What got you beaten up at home becomes a revelation when you say it not to them but me. There’s brightness in your eyes as I spell out my visions, and in the brightness of your pupils, your attention sets me free. You power me with what you sense that no one ever saw in me.
On September 11, 2001, almost three thousand New Yorkers were battered to oblivion by Boeings turned into barbarian fists. That three thousand would not want us to mourn, to mope, to close down with a whimper, to give up what we are and flee. They would not want us to ditch Manhattan, and hide in woods or farmland so we could not be shattered and cracked again. They would not want us to wall ourselves off in darkness and in misery.
Living well is the best revenge. For the sake of those who died, we must live even more vividly. Those who died would want us to fling our singing, dancing, writing, romancing, business-building, idea-spinning back into Osama’s face. They’d want us to show this Seventh Century killer that we carry in us the seeds of something he can never erase, the seeds of a rich futurity. Osama and his clones want to smash us back to the desert rubble of Mohammed’s day. But we will sing, and we will dance, and we will throw the glory of our future in his face.
A city is a place of mind tribes, imagination families, the strange empowering of each other with which we create the future’s new normalcies. Five cities are the flares from which the fireworks of civilization spring—New York, Tokyo, London, LA, and Paris. Douse one and you put the torch of wonder and of freedom out. You close one of the five eyes that guide all of humanity. Never let them blind us. Never let these cities die. Let us dance and work our asses off until we drive Osama wild. Let us live with lust and power in new crusades of freedom, of imagination, and of creativity. For brotherhood and sisterhood in the strange, the brave, and wondrous is the power of the city. That’s the power of New York, the power of the modern, and the power of urbanity.