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New York, New York!

George P. Kurien

The twin World Trade Center towers were so much more fascinating to me than the much acclaimed, historic, ornate, and prestigious Empire State Building. It's true that the latter might have been the pride and joy of the New York City of yesteryear, and it may still be in some people's minds, but I, for some strange reason, saw it differently. First of all, there were two of them. And they were so modern. Although I am part of the "Analog Generation", I guess the world of "digitaldom" has influenced my thinking process. Be it as it may, but my real reason for favoring the Towers over the Empire State is that the latter was already there when I first came to this country over thirty years ago, while the Twins were born well after my arrival.

I had heard about, and seen pictures of the Empire State Building well before I came to this country. I'd learned about it in primary school. That's perhaps the reason why I made it my first order of business to see it as soon as I landed at JFK. But despite all that, I never stopped wondering how they could stack 101 stories one on top of the other. I thought it was physically impossible to do that, and that the pictures that I had seen in text books and magazines were unreal. Shame on me, because I am a Mechanical Engineer, and was to do my graduate studies at the prestigious Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn! But none of my engineering knowledge really cut it, and like my spiritual ancestor, St. Thomas, the Apostle of India, I had to see it to believe it! And I did better than simply seeing it. Not only that I saw it, I lived 20 blocks away from it on 14th Street near Union Square for over a year, and never really thought about it since then.

The World Trade Center Twins, on the other hand, were different. They grew up with me from the ground up. I remember them in their embryonic stage as mere holes in the ground in Lower Manhattan. I remember going there and looking at the construction project as it progressed right before my eyes. That, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, were the largest construction projects that I had seen up close during the early days of my life in these United States. I tried in vain to visualize the Twins rise up to the heavens. Although I had nothing to do with its design or construction in any way, shape or form, I felt a certain amount of pride in thinking that they were going to be part of the skyline of the City which was my home.

Then one day, I read in the newspapers that the Twins were ready for human habitation. Yes, they were open for business! I found a special joy in knowing that at least three of my close friends would have their offices located in the complex --- Tom on 35th floor, and Joe on or about the 75th. I know Bobby was there too, but don't remember which floor he was on. I made it a point to visit them at their offices, not so much to visit them, but to visit the building where they worked. While on the 75th floor, I remember going to the windows and looking out, not so much to the heavens above me, as I had the false notion that I was already part my way up there, but down to the city below. I was filled with a certain measure of inexplicable pride. For what it was worth, I was looking down upon the Big Apple!

And then I left… I left the New York Metropolis for professional reasons. My job took me to such far away places as Providence, Midland (MI), Syracuse, Chicago, Knoxville, and finally the scenic and historic Chattanooga. I felt a certain loss, albeit I have to be truthful in saying that I never missed the New York City traffic, the congestion, and the high cost of living. But like a loving son visiting his parents, I made it a point to return to the City at least once every year. While crossing the George Washington Bridge, I would look across the Hudson River down to the Battery in the South to check out the concrete forest, reinforce my mental image of the Manhattan skyline, and update it in ever so minute detail. Driving down the FDR Drive, likewise, I would check out the East Side. Yeah, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler, the Pan Am, the United Nations, and last but not least, my Twins! They're all there. Everything looked good! My mental image updated, I would shift into fifth gear, and slide right into my trademark New York City driving. A prodigal son for a short while, I would instantly become a card-carrying New Yorker --- again! One may be able to take me out of the City, but no one can take the City out of me! Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker…

Then, in 1993, I heard the terrible news about the terrorist bombing at the Center. That was a sad day in my life. New York lost its innocence. I was glued to the TV and watched the horror unfold right in front of my eyes. But New York snapped right back. The bruises were soon healed, and the scars totally faded into oblivion. The Big Apple was open for business. The City was open for living.

Well, a few months ago, they inflicted a much larger bruise to my City. Yes, it left a much deeper scar this time, but it too will be erased and gone. It might take several months or years before that happens, but it will happen. I know it. I know the resilience of New York. I know the elasticity of the New Yorkers. I used to be one. I know!

I plan to visit the New York City area in a few weeks. But I won't be going downtown this time. I don't want to look at another hole in the ground, which this time, is the result of a terrible sin against humanity! I will have a really hard time reconciling to the void that they left this time. I had seen the first one under a totally different set of circumstances. That represented the joy of birth. That's the mental picture that I have, and I want to preserve it. I also realize that my predicament is nothing compared to the deep sorrow that the New Yorkers, who lost their loved ones, are feeling right now. I will give my brothers and sisters in the Big Apple enough time to bounce back. And then I will see them. God bless New York!

(George P. Kurien, an immigrant from the southern Indian state of Kerala and former resident of the New York Metropolitan area, currently resides in Chattanooga, TN. He works as Principal Engineer/Procurement Engineering Manager in the Nuclear Power Division of the Tennessee Valley Authority. )

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