It was just two days after terrorists massacred 20 people at the Holey Artisan Bakery and Restaurant in the Dhaka neighbourhood where I live. Among those killed were three young students, alumni of the school where my daughter studies. I was at the time in the U.S. on vacation with my family, but the event was still too close to home. It seemed too shocking, too brutal, too cruel and unfair to be true. The pall of fear, suspicion, and horror that hung over Dhaka covered my family too. The bright lights of Times Square and the cheerful throngs of tourists, eating, laughing, and clicking selfies with people in superhero costumes seemed bizarre, almost preposterous.
I wanted answers to the questions that rattled around in my head. What is the way to live in these troubled times? How do we react to random acts of terror and violence perpetrated by humans against each other? There was only one place that I felt would offer me some explanations: the National September 11 Memorial, a tribute to the people who were killed in terror attacks on 11 September 2001 and in February 1993 at the World Trade Center site in New York. Fifteen years ago, two tall towers stood in that very spot. The memorial consists of two great square pools of water, falling and flowing endlessly across the walls into a dark empty block, bordered by polished granite slabs that proclaim the names of the dead. I saw fresh flowers, red and purple posies, laid along the inscribed name of Robert Michael Murach, still remembered and missed. The nearby memorial museum told the personal stories of people who had died. Through artefacts, photographs, and narratives from those who knew them, they were remembered by the way they lived, not by the manner of their death. Never Forget, urged the memorial.
What is the use of memory? I wondered, still numb and bitter after the visit. It does not offer any salve to those who lost their loved ones, nor hope to those who live in the shadow of terror. My husband, daughter, and I left for Central Park. The weather was perfect, the sky a clear blue with a glittering lozenge sun that warmed our skin without burning it. We wandered aimlessly through the park, our hearts too full for maps and logical plans. I stopped to buy a churro from one of the fast food stands—yellow carts shaded by green and white umbrellas managed by Bangladeshi immigrants who do a brisk business selling hot dogs and ice creams. Children squealed with laughter and small fluffy dogs sniffed out hidden treasures in the long grass. Fit men and women pounded the paths in running gear while others were content to sprawl on the grass, doing nothing. We found ourselves walking through a broad pathway flanked by arching trees, the towering American elms. A statue of Sir Walter Scott looked benevolently upon us as we strolled through the Literary Walk. I bought a painting of a yellow cab threading its way through a New York street from a Bulgarian artist. Just below a large statue of Christopher Columbus, stood musician Susan Kesner, slender, white-haired and aristocratic, playing classical melodies on her violin and selling her music on CDs and USB sticks for $15 a pop. The fading strains of Bach gave way to an aggressive African beat from a pair of bongo drums which inspired a fiery brown woman to shake and sway her body in what looked like an ancient rhythmic dance. A group of athletic African-American men, probably street dancers, enthralled a crowd with their acrobatic moves and light-hearted banter.
We sat on the benches by a calm pool known as the Conservatory Water and watched the world go by. It was hard to believe that a few hours ago we had been in a sombre memorial to the dead. I was unnerved by the events that had happened in Dhaka, yet soothed by the vibrancy, the teeming sense of well-being and tranquillity that imbued the air, the trees and people in Central Park. I felt the meaning in that old cliché “Life goes on.” What I saw in the park reminded me that the only sane response to an act of cowardice is courage. To face the world with resilience, to accept our vulnerability and not cower in fear. To be cautious, but not be governed by distrust. To find our sweet oasis of peace amidst the chaos. I will never be able to make sense of these tragedies, but from walking through Central Park that day I understood that one of the ways to counter senseless death is to live a meaningful life, honouring those who are no longer with us, by making every moment count.
Appeared in the September 2016 issue as “From This Moment On”.
is a columnist and author of two novels, "Keep The Change" and "Intermission". She has also won the Commonwealth Short Story Competition prize in 2006 for her short fiction.
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