I see on an immense scale, and as clearly as in a demonstration in a laboratory, that good comes out of evil; that the impartiality of the Nature Providence is best; that we are made strong by what we overcome; that man is man because he is as free to do evil as to do good; that life is as free to develop hostile forms as to develop friendly; that power waits upon him who earns it; that disease, wars, the unloosened, devastating elemental forces have each and all played their part in developing and hardening man and giving him the heroic fiber.
-Accepting the Universe (1920), John Burroughs
On Monday night, Oct. 22, as American soldiers were continuing their grainy, night-vision incursions into Taliban territory, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams lofted towering home runs in the Bronx to beat the Seattle Mariners and send the Yankees to their fourth consecutive World Series championship. Almost eliminated earlier in the playoffs, the Yankees are a metaphor for New York, a stirring emblem of the courage of the city and its endless capacity to renew itself despite daunting obstacles.
For the past six weeks, the anxiety and grief felt by all New Yorkers has been matched by their determination to prevail against the threats, real and imagined, that have dominated public discourse. The overall mood has been equal parts civility and tenacity, and there is plenty of evidence that the affection and loyalty that New Yorkers feel for their city and each other will deny the terrorists their deranged dream of hysteria and mass exodus.
The city’s resilience has been stunning. Within days of Sept. 11, the government bond-trading business was restarted; within a week, the New York Stock Exchange was up and running. Displaced banking and law firms were offered temporary office space by former rivals. Con Edison and Verizon worked tirelessly to restore critical power and phone lines that had been destroyed. Hotels, which saw occupancy rates plunge to 30 percent in September, are back up to 60 percent. While tourism will continue to suffer in the short term, the attractions that make New York so compelling to the rest of the world-Broadway and Off-Broadway theater, superb museums, four-star restaurants, the vibrancy and energy of the nightlife-will not lose their draw.
The Dow has gained back 75 percent of the losses it suffered immediately after the attacks. Several of Wall Street’s most prominent firms, including Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, have indicated that they will not relocate from the area in the immediate vicinity of the disaster site. Other firms must be encouraged to stay put-not only as a matter of patriotism, but because it makes good business sense. Both of the candidates for Mayor, Mark Green and Michael Bloomberg, understand the absolute necessity to rebuild downtown Manhattan, and whoever wins will surely make the revival of the world’s most important financial district a central part of his legacy.
Not everyone has acted with integrity, of course, and there have been some unfortunate lapses. After embracing the city, the federal government is now hesitating about providing a penny over the $40 billion in aid it initially promised. Some of the fault may lie with Governor George Pataki, who tried to sneak some pork-barrel items-high-speed train service to Schenectady?-into the request for $54 billion in aid that he sent to Congress. An example of outrageous conduct was the decision by Cantor Fitzgerald chairman Howard Lutnick to drop the firm’s missing employees from the payroll on Sept. 15, just four days after the attacks. While Mr. Lutnick had been very public in his concern for the families of the 700 missing Cantor employees, the stopping of paychecks struck many as callous and ill-timed. Then there was Senator Hillary Clinton’s puzzling post–Sept. 11 disappearing act, in which the junior Senator from New York-unlike Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Pataki and Senator Charles Schumer-could not be found among those elected officials who were taking to the streets and airwaves to show their 24-hour-a-day commitment to a devastated city. Mrs. Clinton’s invisibility in the weeks after the attack resulted in her being roundly booed by thousands of firefighters and police officers when she appeared onstage at Madison Square Garden for a fund-raiser organized by Paul McCartney.
But these are small matters when compared with the courage and compassion of most New Yorkers, who have shown the world that they are capable of fortitude in the most challenging of times. Indeed, the nation’s and the world’s previous view of New York, which had always had a veneer of suspicion and scorn, has been forever changed, replaced by warmth and admiration for this city of heroes.
And while we owe much to the firefighters and emergency workers who have illuminated the city skyline with their bravery, there is another group that deserves to be honored: the average New Yorkers, who have not abandoned this city for the suburbs or other cities, and who, like the Yankees, bring new meaning to the virtue of grace under pressure.
Bring on Arizona!