for mayor turns into a campaign for understanding
By Liriel Higa '02
In New York:
I am on W. 5th Street
and Third Avenue when the planes hit, campaigning for New York City
Council candidate Brad Hoylman. Up until 8:45 a.m. it is Primary
Day, time to elect a new mayor and fresh slate of city councilors.
Outside, without a cell phone or Walkman, I watch the smoke from
a mile-and-a-quarter away and wonder. Catherine Abate, mother of
Kyle Kliegerman '01, who is campaigning for another candidate and
with whom I have been chatting, makes use of her cell phone and
tells me the cause of the smoke. I immediately call home, waking
up my parents in Los Angeles, and a friend at Princeton who had
wanted to campaign with me, getting his voicemail. I want to keep
calling others at school until I get an actual person, but already
there is a line to use the pay phone. One woman cries hysterically.
A mass exodus from downtown
begins, and I get updated information and misinformation: They've
hit the Pentagon, Sears Tower, and the State Department. I take
a bus uptown, away from the crash site, but rumors of unaccounted
for planes flying over the city make the threat seem immediate.
I am determined to stay on the East Side as long as possible to
avoid major landmarks. I end up at my sister's friend's apartment,
whom I have met twice in four years. Her roommate's father opens
the door; "I'm Noessa's little sister," I say, and that
is the only introduction necessary.
Back at Princeton:
Everyone is still camped
around television sets when I return to campus Wednesday. My inbox
is filled with e-mails from administrators informing us of counseling
and other services, SVC information about blood donation, e-mails
asking if I am okay, and e-mails from friends telling me they are
Triangle Club collects
money for the Firefighter's Memorial Fund as hundreds wait in line
for its wildly popular freshman week show. Everyone searches their
pockets. I give $5, feeling my inadequacy. Others, with mere pennies
and dimes, refrain, feeling it would be insulting, but the multigallon
water jugs get filled.
Professor Oates decides
to forgo introductions on the first day of Creative Writing 303.
Instead, she has us write for an hour. Our homework assignment is
to read Bharati Mukherjee's short story "The Management of
Grief" a first-person account of a woman who loses her family
due to a terrorist attack on a plane. "Acceptance," according
to the narrator, "means you speak of your family in the past
tense and you make active plans for moving ahead with your life."
I see makeshift memorials with pictures of missing loved ones on
the news and tearful friends and relatives begging them to call
figures speak at the Sunday memorial service on Cannon Green: President
Tilghman, Provost Gutmann, Professors James McPherson, Toni Morrison,
Paul Muldoon. President Tilghman leads a moment of silence and warns
against hateful, discriminatory behavior toward others. I have heard
rumors that Princeton students have gotten hate mail that I hope
aren't true. McPherson provides a historical perspective, speaking
of the thousands that died in the Battle of Antietam, which turned
out to be a turning point during the Civil War. But it is Professor
Morrison's message that resonates most deeply with me: she speaks
to the dead. Her language, devoid of the words I have been hearing
endlessly these past few days, "senseless tragedy," "patriotism,"
"terrorist attack," "retaliation," is forceful
and lyrical. It does not pretend to provide the closure that I am
nowhere close to feeling.
Liriel Higa '02 can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org