My mind today meanders as it does every year not just to the obvious — to The Day — but to Aug. 14, 2003. The day the lights went out and New York City found itself in what should have been an entirely unfamiliar position: powerless. The northeast blackout.
And what always stays with me each year on Sept. 11, is the memory of something I read in the days following the blackout. I don’t remember where I read it or the name of the guy who said it. But he was describing the mood of the city that afternoon and evening. The initial prickly tension that came when, a little after 4 p.m., the power of the city hummed down to silence. It was two years and too soon after The Day. Again? Please not again.
But then, despite the gridlock, despite the heat, despite the abandoned subways and too-clogged taxis and tired feet — despite the general weirdness of it all — when evening fell and folks trudged home, there came a cheerful resignation. There were picnics and impromptu rooftop cocktail parties and neighbors sitting on the stoop to talk and escape the heat inside.
There was, this guy said in the line that has always stayed with me, a sense of almost-giddy relief when the realization came that, on this day, nobody was trying to kill us.
A few years ago, an artist named John Rocco released a beautiful children’s book about that night called, simply, Blackout. As happens now, they made a book trailer to promote it. These trailers are a little goofy fact of book promotion life these days, but I actually like this one. Because it captures the eventual delight of that day. The sense of community. The knowledge that there was still a type of misfortune that could be chuckled at.
A woman in it smiles at the memory of that day. “Every Thursday should end exactly like this.”
It certainly should.