The Wind in the Heights

Mr. Vanderleun, you have captured in a very short essay, all of the tragedy of 9/11 in New York. Thank you sir, from the bottom of my heart.

Posted by GM Roper at September 6, 2007 1:36 PM

This says a great deal about grace, sacrifice and more. It reminds me of this:

“Was not Nagasaki the chosen victim, the lamb without blemish, slain as a whole burnt offering on an altar of sacrifice, atoning for the sins of all nations during World War II?” - Dr. Takashi Nagai 1908-1951, on Martyrdom, from All Saints by Robert Ellsberg

Posted by The Anchoress at September 6, 2007 2:33 PM

Every day, sometimes several times a day, I log onto American Digest, and I am disappointed that there is no new essay. And then, when I am almost hopeless, there is today's beautiful writing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Posted by Bob Sykes at September 6, 2007 4:41 PM

Wow. Just... wow.

Posted by B. Durbin at September 6, 2007 5:56 PM

I've written to you once before to compliment you on your writing skills and on your very good humor. I write this time to say that I, too, had a view of that day, only after the events, from midtown where I work, and from the ferry that took me from 12th Avenue on the west side to Port Imperial in West New York. From there I walked a couple of miles to my apartment where I still live. The utter and complete disbelief I experienced that late afternoon as the ferry backed out onto the Hudson and the view of the entire southern half of the island engulfed in a white/gray cloud of smoke is still more than I can really comprehend. The fury and the sorrow I felt was even deeper than I knew in those horrific moments. I don't know that I have or ever will get over it. My neighbors, my countrymen, reduced to ash and smoke. Your description here is beautiful and so very painful. I was a mere 34 years old that day. I plan to live to be a very old woman, and for as long as I live I will never forget that day, the fury, the sorrow, and the absolute insanity that engulfed every single one of us who saw it up close. I thank you for not forgetting it either.

Posted by Kerry at September 6, 2007 8:14 PM

The quick intake of breath, the shock, the wide-eyed stare and later, the panting, grunting labor in the pit opened our bodies to receive their remains. They will ever be part of us, but our tears, still clear, never ran gold.

Posted by at September 6, 2007 9:10 PM

The Angel in thw Whirlwind.

Posted by Keith at September 6, 2007 9:55 PM

The Angel in the Whirlwind.

Posted by Keith at September 6, 2007 9:57 PM

I am without words, except to say thank you.

Posted by saltydog at September 6, 2007 11:31 PM

Thank you.

Posted by Jack Collingsworth at September 7, 2007 7:17 AM

I consider myself very lucky to have found your blog. Thank you for sharing your talent.

Posted by Big Mo at September 7, 2007 10:18 AM

Beautiful and evocative. The best essay I've ever read describing this time and place.

Posted by Eric Gagnon at September 7, 2007 10:26 AM

A beautiful piece. And heartbreaking.

Posted by RebeccaH at September 7, 2007 10:30 AM

Remember . . . THEY want you to forget.

History is coming for us all . . .

Posted by gabrielpicasso at September 7, 2007 11:04 AM


Thank you.

Posted by leelu at September 7, 2007 1:18 PM

We forget why we went to war, why men and women are in foreign lands giving their all---even their lives---to stop such things from happening again. Not just for us, but for people around the world.

What happened Sept. 11th 2001 was the act of bullies, an act of arrogance. It was done by men so sure of themselves and their motives they were convinced we would fold like a badly built tower of straw. And, with their greatest enemy made low, they would march on to glorious victory over a quavering world.

Thus is hubris brought low by its own deeds. A pustulent ambition cut off by the essential rot within and the work of those it treated so shabbily.

We made mistakes, we've lost good people, hysterics and control freaks slime our freedoms, but overall we've made progress. It would be a far different situation at home had the administration made the Iraqi violations of the armistice the causus belli, but we must live with what the administration did instead and continue with the struggle to save a nation and its people.

People insist that we complete the job in months, giving no thought to the possibility it may take years, if not generations. Are we ready to spend generations preparing a distant land for true independence? Are we ready to send our grandchildren and their grandchildren to the land between the rivers to work with the people there. Are we ready to make the Iraqis American like us if that's what it takes to get things working again?

On a morning in the late Summer of 2001 the world changed. Since then it has continued to change. What it will become is still to be determined.

Posted by Alan Kellogg at September 7, 2007 3:43 PM

just to state the are a damn fine writer. Thank you for taking the time to maintain your blog.

Posted by Barnabus at September 7, 2007 4:38 PM

Note that the specks almost never made it onto television. I only remember one, and the horror I felt at that hemisphere of gray and pink. Later that day, someone on NBC said that the networks had decided not to show any of the victims falling or hitting the ground -- because to do so would make us angry.
Thus spoke our owners.

Posted by Bleepless at September 7, 2007 7:22 PM

As a young lady in the 70's I lived on Pierrepont St. in a beautiful brownstone apartment. Just the other day I was telling someone that the windows in the apartment were huge, the quality of light inside was fantastic and I had house plants as drapes. I regularly ate in the Middle Eastern restaurants on Atlantic Ave. and walked the promenade frequently.
Now a Long Islander, I also remember 9-11 as the day the air traffic stopped to be replaced by the distinctive sound of F-16's running a racetrack pattern out over my home and back in again.
What a beautiful essay. More so because I see through your eyes a horrific sight from a place that I know and love.

Posted by Babs at September 9, 2007 12:37 PM

A haunting, melancholy essay. Thank you.

Posted by Mike Lief at September 9, 2007 8:01 PM

Gerard, there is something about the legendary, but even so much more about the legends which are true. We are blessed to live in a time in which there is a legend which we are able to believe because we were there.

That is to say, many legends are true, but over the years they get painted over so many times that we can casually disbelieve them. This, not so.

What is more saddening is that there even exist people who cannot believe what is right in front of them.

Posted by RiverC at September 9, 2008 8:02 AM

Beautiful. Thank you.

Posted by Hannon at September 9, 2008 9:10 AM

May I add my voice to the eloquent remarks above?

It is a joy to experience such powerful writing.

The juxtaposition of pictures featuring Barack on his bike and the whirlwind of dust at ground zero congealed into a that scariest of childhood emblems of evil: the wicked witch peddling through the Kansas tornado in The Wizard of Oz.

Posted by Cathy Wilson at September 9, 2008 3:45 PM

I remember this one. And I remember it every time I see dust blowing on the breeze, catching the light.

Sad, isn't it, that in only seven years people are already forgetting/disbelieving?

Posted by Obi's Sister at September 9, 2008 5:26 PM

To comment is to stir the calm, and yet. . . just beautiful.

Posted by Joan of Argghh! at April 28, 2009 5:55 AM

Some saw the Devil's face in the smoke.
Others don't believe in such things.


Posted by jwm at April 28, 2009 8:33 PM

The words I'm typing are just standing in for bowing my head.

Posted by Van at April 28, 2009 10:07 PM

My country tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing.

Thank you Vanderleun.

Posted by France at April 29, 2009 8:42 AM

Gerard, I am curious about political transformations, as I too have undergone an 180. My sense is that for most of your life you were to the left of the spectrum.

Was this the day that did it for you?

Evocative piece. Well done.

Posted by Adagny at April 30, 2009 7:48 PM

Well, I'd say that this was the day that did it for good, but I had been tending in that direction for several years before this.

Posted by vanderleun at May 1, 2009 9:36 AM

Great piece. Thanks. And the site with the images is awesome also.

Posted by retriever at September 12, 2009 7:12 PM

As a long time Heights dweller I can tell you that the locals voted for Obama in locksteps, notwithstanding the Arabic neighborhood 9/11 celebrations four blocks south ...

Posted by g6loq at September 13, 2009 8:34 AM

What a beautifully written article.A masterpiece.

Posted by clarice Feldman at September 12, 2011 9:16 AM

I can't add anything to what's already been said about this essay, but I'd like to comment on the lead picture. Of all the images and emotions I remember about the first anniversary of 9/11, the thing that stays with me most was the wind at Ground Zero. A strong, swirling, forceful wind; the kind that on any other day I might call "angry". I never mentioned it to the people I was watching with, but I saw them wince along with me every time it tossed up another wave of if thousands of unseen hands had hurled it. The distortion murmured into the microphones in a pattern that sounded like "remember...remember". Maybe I just imagined it. Or maybe it was a returning echo of the wind you lived through on the Heights a year earlier. Either way, it still haunts me.

Posted by Ren at September 12, 2011 8:51 PM

I, too, was once a lefty, a New Yorker active in Democratic politics. While the political establishment is bad enough, the intellectual and cultural elite is much worse. Mr. Leif an must be understood in his cultural context. A case in point. I urge you to link to this cartoon that appeared in Sunday's Times. It is titled "The Unpleasant Anniversary Activity Page."

This appeared on Sept. 11, 2011.  September 11.

Here is an example of cultural rot at it's most advanced stage. From such smirking nihilism, only fascism lies beyond.

Once again, thanks for the eloquent words. They are necessary if we are ever to rebuild, Eliot-fragments of what once existed, in order "to shore up against our ruins"

Posted by MPRyan at September 12, 2011 9:23 PM

I meant Mr. Krugman. The spell checker seems to spill out "Leif an" for Krugman. Go figure.

Posted by MPRyan at September 12, 2011 9:27 PM

Lovely cartoon, MPRyan. It reminded me of a quote I heard shortly after the attack. Unfortunately, I don't remember exactly what it was. Something like 'from now on, we're going to be less flippant and more serious', but that's not it. Looks like McFadden didn't get the memo.

(That quote is really bugging me now. I wish I could remember it. I don't even know how to go about searching for it.)

Ex-lefty here, too. Welcome aboard!

Posted by rickl at September 13, 2011 4:26 PM

Ripley: “I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

We are in New York City now. Last night they displayed the Towers of Light. It was overwhelming.

Like a the phantom of a limb amputated long ago, it continues to ache.

I still maintain that we were far too nice to the perps that day.

We should have nuked Mecca and Medina on 9/12/2001.

It was the condign penalty for harming the Homeland. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and it cost them two cities. The same rule should have applied to the Arabs.

There would not be another attack on the US for 100 years. Islam would have shriveled up and died.

Posted by Fat Man at September 13, 2012 3:51 PM

What a beautiful essay.

Posted by Scott M at September 13, 2013 3:57 AM

You know, Mr. Vanderleun, you're a pretty good writer.

Posted by D S Craft at September 13, 2013 5:17 PM

I read this every year as a ritual remembrance. It touches on the exact right points, on truths that are unknown to barbaric peoples of the Islamic Borg; that personhood is conferred by a Person, not a system of belief, and to tread on that reality of Life is to sow into the wind. The whirlwind is theirs to reap, may God be the judge between us.

Posted by Joan at September 12, 2015 5:53 AM

I wasn't there but my daughter was flying home from Japan on the 11th. I just reread her first email to me after we knew she had made it home alive. It was an insane journey as the plane could not fly into New York. The very last crazy thing was she had to convince the cabby to take her to her mixed race neighborhood because he thought she should obviously be going to a nice Jewish area.
Those were epic frightening days.

Posted by pbird at September 15, 2016 10:24 AM