Inspiration

My office building is directly to the north of the World Trade Center site and my windows look down on what for many years was “the pit,” and what gradually emerged as the memorial fountains, the completed Freedom Tower, and the breathtaking Oculus that just opened a few weeks ago. For the past ten years I’ve had a bird’s eye view of this urban transformation, this physical manifestation of renewal. I cannot be cynical about how New York rebuilt these six acres after the Twin Towers were attacked and felled. I don’t judge the impulse or the need, I share it. No matter the complexity and myriad circumstances that led to that horrible day, when two buildings fall down, you re-build them. When thousands of people die, you make a memorial. If you can do these things, you do them. So I was not one of the people who questioned the building of the Freedom Tower, nor did I scoff at the incredibly laborious process of selecting an architect, nor did I grow impatient as the building took an entire decade to construct.

What I did was watch it, one day at a time. I took my lunch hour outside, year-round for many years, with the thousands of construction workers that are still here in the neighborhood, doing the job. About five years ago, I stumbled onto the lunch-spot where the foremen and supervisors eat. My entire life, I’ve had deep-seated admiration for doctors, especially surgeons. I’ve thought that medical doctors possess magical knowledge; they can open people up and cure them, sometimes. I’ve always envied the magical knowledge they possess. Spending so many days and lunch hours watching the Freedom Tower construction workers, I developed the same admiration of them. How did these people know how to make a skyscraper? How do the engineers acquire this magical knowledge? Their work must be absolutely perfect; there can’t be mistakes.

During my lunch, I often eavesdropped on the supervisor’s conversation or phone calls. They were engineers, no doubt. They were skyscraper surgeons. They wore dirty pants, steel-toe shoes and hard-hats, and they were magicians of skyscraper construction. I would listen to them placing orders for materials, or describing fine points of the work, and I grew more and more admiring and even envious of what I could never know or begin to understand. And then I fell in love with skyscrapers too. I began studying them, reading about all of New York’s, looking at them with my head bent way back as I walked around the neighborhood, the oldest neighborhood in New York City, which contains over twenty buildings that were the tallest building in the world, the day they were completed.

This new hobby of mine inspired the novel I’m currently working on. My main character is an engineer. His passion and obsession with skyscrapers is lifelong, and he builds them for a living. He believes in the perfection of skyscrapers and he has faith in perfection in general. Which does not serve him well as he and his wife discover that their daughter has many disabilities and special needs. My engineer will have to figure out a lot of things as he goes. He cannot re-draw the plans, or fix miscalculations with his child. And maybe he cannot hold faith with perfection as a model for anything.

Three years ago, I stood with my co-workers on the 13th floor and we watched the spire of the Freedom Tower being raised from the ground by a crane and installed onto the top of the completed tower. The spire itself is a gorgeous piece of steel construction, a mini- Eiffel Tower and its 408 feet tall alone. I don’t know if every square inch of that building is perfect and mistake free, but I’d have to guess it is pretty damn close to stand there, immoveable and imposing as it does. But it’s not the perfection of the tower that inspires me, it’s the brilliant and fallible minds of the workers who built it that does.

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10 comments

  1. Hi Rachel – if your novel-in-progress shares the spirit of your writing in this post, you’ll be bringing a quietly efficient, noble profession into the light. We do take our civil engineers and construction workers for granted, don’t we? As you say, their work ‘must be absolutely perfect.’ It’s a heck of a responsibility and it’s a shame we haven’t created citizen ceremonies to say thank you to them, once their work is complete.

    All good luck with your writing, long and shorter.

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  2. What wonderful writing, so sensitive and smart. OK, I’m ready for the second novel, keep going !
    Found this writing very touching and observant. Hang out more at construction sites.

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  3. My Dear Dear RachelI Your “Inspiration” is the finest writing I have read regarding the rebuilding of ground zero. I was throughly spellbound by your fascinating & unusual perspective. “Skyscraper Surgeons”. Indeed! I am pleased that you opened the door of your personal observation theater and let us in.

    It seems unbelievable to me that we were visiting with you such a short while ago. I wish the distance was not so great. Today in prospect park would make for a perfect Sunday. I love you tsvi >

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