But they also met the attack with defiance. “Watch,” a union worker at Ground Zero said just two days afterward. “We’re going to build it back.”
On Monday, Dan Smith, an electrical engineer who works at the Ground Zero site, took a cigarette break while behind him Caterpillars and hydraulic drills roared, and a new building loomed, already more than 60 stories high and climbing. “Everybody feels we’re doing good, memorializing the loss,” he said.
Across the street, pedestrians paused at Fire House No. 10 to stare at a bronze relief sculpture commemorating the attacks. Some laid bouquets of flowers under the names etched into the bronze. Among them was Lenny Cresci, a former New York police officer. Cresci saw a lot of things on the beat in the 1970s, worked his share of murders and street gang shootings, saw plenty of people killed, “but nothing overwhelmed me” like Sept. 11. He lost his brother John Cresci, a fire department lieutenant, that day. Cresci laid a bouquet of red and yellow roses on the sidewalk by his brother’s name. Lenny’s first thought when he heard bin Laden had been killed was “elation,” he said. Bin Laden “being dead kind of closes the books on him. Nobody will be visiting his tomb.” But then the reality set in. “Tough day,” he said. “Tough day. I think I cried more today than on 9/11.”
Tourists gathered to stare at the raw plaza. There was a brief commotion when sirens sounded: A manhole cover had exploded nearby. Some firefighters strung up yellow tape and told everybody to stay back, but New Yorkers shrugged. It happens.
Steve Archipolo, a mailer for the New York Post, grandson of a World War II veteran, contemplated a New York free of bin Laden. “He was a pimple,” Archipolo said.
Ryan Beckley, a 21-year-old student at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, stood at the gates of St. Paul’s Chapel holding a sign quoting John Donne. “Any man’s death diminishes me.” He found it difficult to vilify bin Laden given the “infinite complexity” of the world, an attitude at which various passersby sneered. One called him “a moron,” and another told him to rot, and another simply said, “[Expletive] you, idiot.”
Behind Beckley was the churchyard that had been a haven for the families of victims and for relief workers. A Vietnam veteran and National Guard sergeant named Mauro Bacolo stuck an American flag in the graveyard dirt. Bacolo, who served two tours as a Navy signalman in Vietnam, wished they had caught bin Laden alive. “I wish they’d of captured him and locked him in Guantanamo and every morning he had to listen to the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and every evening he had to listen to ‘God Bless America.’ Every day.” Nearby, Ramiro Reyes, a 22-year-old retired Navy petty officer and now a plumber from Spotswood N.J., wore a jacket of his own design. On the back it had 9/11 embroidered with a slogan, “I Don’t Forget, I Don’t Forgive.”
Meanwhile, next to him, a young man with a guitar sang John Lennon’s peace anthem, “Imagine.”
In St. Paul’s, the crowds wandered observantly through the aisles, which held a series of memorial displays. There was a pile of teddy bears collected for bereaved children. There were the service badges of the relief workers who had grabbed a few hours of sleep in the pews. There was an altar completely covered by snapshots of victims, with rosary beads, crosses and mementos fashioned from the metal of Ground Zero.
At this altar, a man in a gray cloak clasped his hands and rocked and chanted. He was a Buddhist monk named Dong Sun Sunim from the Bodhi Mind Zen Center in Teaneck, N.J. He prayed for the strong hearts of the firefighters. He prayed for the safety of the construction workers at Ground Zero. He prayed for the spirits of Sept. 11. “Ignorance hurts many people,” he said. “Bin Laden is ignorance.” Then he stepped outside into the street. The sky was slate gray and lowering, but the gloom was good, he said, because the clouds held the spirits. “Good for spiritual,” he said. “Good for pray.”