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September 12, 2001
Milda De Voe, Alum
School of the Arts 2001

I was in my apartment, one block from Ground Zero, when two planes destroyed my neighborhood. My husband and I (who, incidentally, had gotten married in Columbia's Chapel) walked uptown seven miles to his mother's house. The next day, I walked cross-town to Columbia. What drew me there? The peace of the campus (I had graduated only three months before). The security of friends (I had a lunch date at the Hungarian Pastry Shop). And finally, the promise of possible peace: the school had posted flyers of a memorial ceremony in the chapel... I arrived as the ceremony was in full swing. A half-smile crossed my lips, as I recalled walking down that same aisle some years before. The congregation overflowed onto the sidewalks, many were in tears. The speaker system was working well, and I was able to hear the words that should have comforted me..."We all suffered the same thing. We may have even known people who died. We watched on television as our City was attacked..." I backed away. For the first time, I felt that Columbia had failed me. I hadn't watched the towers fall on TV. I had tasted their dust; had washed it from my face, my lips, my hair. I was haunted by images that were not shown on TV: of intelligent and industrial strangers on the upper floors of the towers, not panicking and jumping, but flashing mirrors in Morse code I could not read. They were lost to time now. After the towers crumbled with these briliant and enterprising young people within, I saw bleeding faces, waded through two inches of new pulverized cement snow...I left Columbia's chapel and its crocodile tears over television images. Where did my feet take me? Directly to the library. There, between the moldy old stacks of books, I sank to the floor and held my knees to my chest. Here in the stacks, I was surrounded by the ghosts of people who had actually seen what I'd seen. By old soldiers, and crime victims, and brave little kids who had grown up to be writers. People who had lived through disaster and still found good in the world. People who had seen the worst and yet managed to function. If there was spritual peace to be had in a post 9/11 world, I felt it there among the books of the dead who--like me--found solace in writing.

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