Last night I dreamt I was in Broad Ripple on a sunny afternoon. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Parthenon restaurant on Guilford Street. I was looking north, past the fire station, toward the canal. Sun reflected off the white wall of the upper story of the Carter Building across the way with a Mediterranean intensity. And then, without warning, that building exploded. A wash of debris blew past my face. I write this by way of saying that, like a lot of people, I've been haunted lately. I'm only now beginning to realize how much. As has been noted here and elsewhere, the world changed on Sept. 11. What changed, exactly, is another question. In New York City, the answer is obvious. There's a gaping hole where the World Trade Center once stood; a series of ever expanding rings encompasses the family and friends of the thousands of people who died there - and now, untold numbers more in Afghanistan.
The rest of America - the world, for that matter - has never seen as much of Manhattan as it has during the past few weeks. The first few days turned the city into a kind of electronic wallpaper that all of us lived with for a while. Day after day and night after night, we were immersed in the apocalyptic montage: blue sky, white towers and convulsive clouds of smoke intercut with faces, voices, the hopelessly indecipherable photos of loved ones taped beneath a striped pizzeria canopy. People began saying that now, somehow, we were all New Yorkers.
This, of course, is not really true. For all its virtues, empathy has its limits. Those of us who experienced the events vicariously via the media were shocked and moved and angered to be sure. For about a day, we weren't all New Yorkers so much as we were all Americans, sharing a national trauma. All of us got the news at pretty much the same time and in the same sequence, shared the same rumors and, finally, closed our bleary eyes on the same wrenching scene. But this is a big country, and the next morning geography began to reassert itself.
The wreckage in New York City and at the Pentagon was screaming proof that change was upon us. In Broad Ripple, though, and in Irvington and Fountain Square, in Lockefield Gardens and Lockerbie, things still seemed pretty familiar. People I knew did a lot of sitting, quiet talking, absorbing.
Rarely has the difference between being there - and here - been as stark. For example, friends in New York have spoken about the gray, electrical smell that, for days, permeated the air. This is the kind of everyday detail that we, who live hundreds of miles away, can only imagine. We are no more New Yorkers than we are Afghanis. And so we give blood and money for relief; we sit and talk, our sentences drifting off without completion. We stare at the blue Midwestern sky, not so much watching as simply taking in that vast, incomprehensible space.
I've lived in Indiana for more than 20 years. Most of that time has been spent here, in Indianapolis.
The events of Sept. 11 have made me want to focus with greater clarity on this place. In the first days after the attacks I heard people say, with reason and relief, they were glad they didn't live in New York. Others said they felt safer here - literally under the radar. I can understand these reactions and even share them to some extent. But Indianapolis doesn't have to be on a list of targets to be affected by the fallout from actions taken miles, or even half a world, away.
So far the crisis here is quiet. That doesn't mean our Islamic neighbors aren't in need of our support. Or that the laid-off airline worker next door isn't taking a hit. Maybe you know someone has been called to active duty.
I remember the impressions Indianapolis made on my family when we first arrived here. There were the many unexpected courtesies, simple graces like the cheerful inclusion of small children in otherwise adult settings and, most important, the first stirrings of friendships that have turned out to be lasting. It was a town with early springs and lingering falls, of old trees and gardens, of neighbors stopping in the street for a little conversation.
Our son was barely more than a toddler. On Friday nights my wife and I would walk with him into Broad Ripple for a Greek meal at the Parthenon. When the weather was warm, we'd sit at a table on the sidewalk and as my wife and I finished our wine, our son would go exploring down the block, looking in shop windows and meeting passersby. Not once did we fear for his safety. The kindness of strangers he encountered gladdened us about the life of our community in ways we could never have imagined.
It's probably no coincidence that this was the setting for my nightmare. The explosion I dreamt about took place across the street. Yes, things have changed. The wheel of violence and retaliation is spinning quickly; we live with a new set of anxieties. This darkness, I'm sure, will pass. The job before us is to determine what endures.