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Erik Raschke
A Single Word

From my Brooklyn roof I saw thousands of people die in seconds.

Most people write about what they were doing when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, some describe how New Yorkers around them acted, and others explain emotions in newsworthy sound bites. But no one, absolutely no one has been able to come up with one all-encompassing word for the tragedy.

Every morning I sit on my roof, sip coffee, feed the pigeons, and gaze at the Manhattan skyline. On September 11th the pigeons were gone, but a sticky, gray trail stretched across the sky and the six firemen on my street, who would never return, were racing by, bleary-eyed in the early morning. I stayed there on my roof, stunned, and when the towers collapsed I...I…

See, I can't think of it, but that should be the word.

The word should be the one that was sucked back down my throat as a cloud of dust enveloped the city, the one that was lost to the collective gasp, the one that my neighbor, whose husband was in the first tower, was trying to say when she whispered "Oh my fucking God."

Think of all the words which now have different meanings now: tragedy, death, widowhood, terror, pain, glass, airplane tires, religion, fanaticism, hijacking, morgue, missing, fireman, stairs, evacuate, Taliban, Channel 2, debris, war, box-cutter, celebration, jihad, World Trade, F-15, Osama, donations, cooperation, blood, smoke, Allah, survivors, flight simulator, and many, many others.

As the days go on, more words are added to the list: retaliation, coalition, death toll, patriotism, profiling, and refugees.

That is why it is important that we mark September 11th with one very important, one very remarkable word. From my Brooklyn roof I saw thousands of people die in seconds and there should be a single word to describe that. The word should not be steeped in anger, hatred, or revenge, but redolent of the silence that so many people felt inside.
When I sit on my roof in the mornings now and feed the pigeons I think of one particular word. I think of the word "loss." I want to say "loss" to describe the great big hole in the city. But then I realize that I am being selfish. I realize that "loss" already has a permanent meaning and for so many can never be changed.