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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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What I Did Instead

I noticed the news around 9:45 p.m. — President Obama would address the nation at 10:30 p.m. Uh-oh, I thought, then kept checking in on the Twitter parlor game of predicting what that news would be. The smart money was on Libya, which seemed logical — some escalation of the campaign against the stubbornly resistant Qaddafi. I had my laptop with me in bed, so I kept checking while the Mets and Phils continued their staredown on the TV.

Then the rumors started. Not Libya, which would almost certainly be some kind of bad news — a greater commitment of forces, tensions with allies and the U.N., political sniping about what should have been done and when — but Osama Bin Laden, which seemed a portent of something rather different, for why would the president be giving us bad news about him late on a Sunday night? The Bin Laden reports multiplied rapidly on Twitter, coming in from Cheney confederates, Congressional staffers, anonymous State Department sources and reporters with military connections until they reached the tipping point beyond which it was impossible that that many different people could be wrong: Ten long years after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and Shanksville, Bin Laden was finally dead.

I devoted a tab on my browser to the White House feed and kept watching the game, now with about half of my attention, as the news rippled out from Twitter to the Times’ website and the AP and then, eventually, to ESPN itself. And to the crowd at Citizens Bank Park. With Daniel Murphy batting in the ninth, the crowd began chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Murph, at least to my eyes, looked understandably baffled, and I wondered how many of the players knew, and how they were finding out, and what would happen when Obama spoke. Would they put it on the scoreboard? Would the game stop? Would Mets and Phillies stand side by side and hug, like the Mets and Braves had done in the first game at Shea after 9/11?

None of that happened, even as the president addressed the world and ESPN dropped its sports crawl to repeat the news. But the announcers (including Bobby Valentine, who conducted himself so admirably after 9/11) began to talk about it, and on the screen you could see fan after fan staring at their cellphones and Blackberrys instead of looking at the game. Normally such a sight provokes annoyance or derision, but this time it left me almost in tears. You could see people’s faces when they read the news and when the information stopped being letters and words and became something real. You watched them show their phones to their seatmates who hadn’t known, or who just wanted confirmation. You saw joy and amazement and pride and sorrow and everything else.

I didn’t know quite what to do. I saw tweets and Facebook updates from people I knew. Some were climbing to their roofs in Brooklyn to gaze out at lower Manhattan, which those of us who were here will always see with a terrible double vision, remembering it disfigured by smoke and ruin and electrical stench. Some people I knew were heading for Ground Zero, where a crowd was gathering, or Times Square, where an amazing photograph captured firefighters from the FDNY — an agency which lost an incomprehensible 343 firefighters that day — gazing at BIN LADEN KILLED on the ticker.

My first impulse was to go, to join the crowd, to walk down Liberty Street and see it impassable because of celebration instead of disaster. To bear witness as best I could. And maybe that’s what I should have done. Maybe I’ll regret it tomorrow, just as I regret that I didn’t head into lower Manhattan with a pen and notebook that morning long ago.

But I didn’t go. And I don’t think I’ll regret it. And here’s my fumbling attempt at explaining why.

On Sept. 11, 2001 I’d worked in the World Financial Center, catercorner from the Trade Center, for nearly six years. The walk from the A station at Broadway and Fulton to 200 Liberty Street was so familiar to me that I knew every square in the sidewalk — for instance, there was one near the Millenium Hotel that had an abnormally large concentration of mica in it that glittered when the light was right. I’d walk down Fulton and jaywalk across Church to the Trade Center Plaza, passing by the huge flagpoles and trying not to be nervous on windy days when the padlocks would bash themselves against the poles and clang like out-of-tune bells. Most mornings I’d cross the plaza, which accuracy compels me to admit was huge and dreary, and exit down the steps by WTC 2. Long before 9/11, I’d sworn not to become jaded about walking to work through a scene most people only knew from movies and postcards. I didn’t like the Twin Towers much, honestly — I thought they were outsized and cold — but I did like the way the steel formed trident-shaped structures at the base, becoming nearly human-scaled close to the ground. I’d often rap on the steel of WTC 2 as I passed, sometimes nodding at the tourists lined up for the elevator to the observation deck so far above. It was mostly habit, but also an acknowledgment that I worked and lived somewhere extraordinary, and that I appreciated it.

On the morning of Sept. 10, 2001 I took that walk for the last time. Less than 24 hours later those places were gone, along with so much else that we wondered if we could bear it. So many people were dead, and I knew so many more would die, before it was over.

I’d meant to go in early, then hit the snooze alarm multiple times. The impact with the first tower woke me up, but I sleepily convinced myself it was a truck going over one of those metal plates laid down in roadwork, and put my head back down. The impact with the second tower woke me up again, and this time I stayed awake — because I could hear people screaming. I watched the unimaginable, awful rest of it unfold on TV. I remember I kept shivering and couldn’t get warm, even though it was a beautiful late-summer day.

I was lucky on 9/11. I wasn’t there. No one I knew was killed, though colleagues of mine sent out to the street saw terrible things, things I know they will bear the awful weight of until the end of their days. They literally ran for their lives as the towers crumbled; our office building was ripped open by hurtling I-beams and filled with dust and powdered glass. We would rendezvous in temporary quarters outside Princeton, N.J., which would be our home for the next 51 weeks. Faced with a dreary commute made uncertain by terrorism closures and rumors, I’d stay in New Jersey for two or three nights in a row, then go back to Brooklyn. I got in the best shape I’d ever been in, flying along on the treadmill with my feet pounding out fear and anger. I also drank in the hotel bar until things went black far too many nights. I wonder sometimes how much damage that kind of hysterical overdrive did.

None of this, of course, is more than an infinitesimal disruption compared to those who had mothers and fathers and children and friends and neighbors taken from them, murdered by a madman half a world away. But at the same time, it was not nothing.

Nor is it nothing that our country changed, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, horror stories about renditions and interrogations, an erosion of civil rights and the rise of a security apparatus that taps our phones and peers at our email and endlessly pursues obsolete targets at increasingly demeaning airport check-ins, all at an exorbitant cost. The character of our nation has changed, as we see it and as our friends and enemies see it. We will argue for generations over whether or not these changes were necessary and what harm they did us, but none of us involved in such arguments will ever remember how things used to be without regretting that time’s passing.

After 9/11 I wondered if I should leave New York. After Emily and I had a son 14 months later, I wondered that anew. Could I stand to live in the foremost terrorism target in the world? Was it insane to raise a child there? But we stayed. And almost against my will, I came to love New York in a way I never had before. Which leads me back to tonight.

Yes, part of me wanted to go to Ground Zero, to mark the occasion. And I smiled and nodded at the scenes of celebration there. But I decided not to go.

I thought of my son, not yet born on 9/11 and now sleeping safe and sound a room away, and said a silent but grateful thank-you to the brave men and women who had done so much to make it so. And then … I got back to watching the Mets game. I have a book deadline this week, so I organized some material for the final push there. There was Sunday laundry left to be done, so I kept the washer and dryer running through their cycles. But mostly I watched the game. I cheered on Pedro Beato and everybody’s new favorite Met Ronny Paulino and Taylor Buchholz and whooped when the Mets trooped off the mound victorious.

I’m glad that the Mets and Phillies kept playing, that the patriotic cheers were spontaneous, that there was no stoppage of the game for the president or anything else. The Mets and Phillies had a game to play, and they played it until there was a winner. People in the stands cheered for their team — men and women together at a sporting event, even the unveiled and unmarried, drinking beer and holding up signs and painting their chests and eating cheesesteaks and engaging in all sorts of foolishness. I cheered for my team at home. For the most part, I did what I do. For the most part, the people in the stands and on the field did the same.

When Osama Bin Laden murdered 3,000 people, it was a Tuesday morning on a warm late-summer day. Ten years later, I heard of his death on a pleasant spring night. I followed news of his demise via a technology that didn’t exist on 9/11, while my son, just just a vague imagining in September 2001, slept 10 feet away. Where the towers once stood, new towers are visible above the cityscape. Life has gone on in ways big and small, while this obscene murderous theocrat hid in caves and compounds, behind blast walls and barbed wire. He met his end on a Sunday night in America, during baseball season, with everything he sought to disrupt and ruin continuing without him — as it has for some time with him. Living as we have and as we wish and as we will is the best revenge.

28 comments to What I Did Instead

  • Patrick from Germany

    Out of words after reading this story… WOW!

  • Wonderfully said. I DID go to ground zero, after work at 3:30 am. Crowd had thinned and was mostly drunk college kids but it was still a decent sight. But staying in was a fine choice.

  • dmg

    jeez louise, jason. your finest essay.

    i’m not going to recount my 9/11, or how, weeks later, i would go down night shift after night shift to watch the smoldering pile and recovery efforts. but last night my son and i learned of the news the way i had of john lennon’s death, from a sports announcer covering a sporting event. we flipped back and forth from the game to the news until obama spoke — and he hit just the right notes, i thought, not so much triumphalism as resolve. before i had asher go to bed, i reminded him of those we knew who had been killed or hurt on that grotesque, horrific day, and how all our lives have been changed, and not for better. and how the man who financed it and took credit for it was finally, finally gone and good freaking riddance. and then i watched the rest of the game, and was glad, too, that the mets pulled it out, because it’s another reason to feel good about last night.

  • Inside Pitcher

    Beautifully put Jace – thank you!

  • No matter what comes of this news, let it always be said that the Mets came out on the right side of history last night.

    Great piece, Jason. Bravo.

  • Dan

    Thanks, man. That was fantastic.

  • dgwphotography

    Bravo, Jason. No one, and I mean NO ONE, put it better today.

  • Wonderful, Jason. Just wonderful.

    PS — I was thinking of you & Emily yeasterday: Sarah & I took our annual off-season daytrip to LBI: summer’s almost here.

  • Michael

    Well said Jason. Brought back a lot of memories that maybe I didn’t want to think about, but probably need to more often than I do.

  • Joe D.

    Amen, Jason.

  • Adam

    I, too, found it very fitting that so many of us heard the news while watching a baseball game, the quintessential American pastime.

  • celticursa well said…@dgwphotography (above)takes the words from my mouth

  • Very well said…Everyone should read this…

  • Flip D.

    You so often say what I’d like to say, had I the ability. Thanks for being such a wonderful voice for all of us Mets Fans, and now for something much bigger than baseball.

  • Cynthia

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Well said…if we don’t live our lives as we love, they will have won.

  • Tanyanne

    Am so very glad I stopped by to read, Jason. A very special piece of writing – thank you for sharing.

  • I think this blog post should be in a time capsule for unifying events, social events that bring us together in a time of need. Thank you Jason! Thank you Greg! Thank you for making us better people and wanting to behave better as people. You guys rock. LGM forever and forever.

  • growler

    Unrelated, except that it was another nice moment during the game. Bobby V. told the story about coming back to the dugout with the Groucho glasses after getting thrown out. They cut to a shot of a bunch of kids in the upper deck, wearing fake glasses, nose and moustache and shirts that had letters on them spelling out “B MY V A L E N T I N E.”

  • stephanie

    Thanks for this, Jace. Just thank you.

  • MetsFan4Decades

    Well said, Jason.

  • Keith

    poignant and beautiful
    thanks jace

  • Eric

    Very well written, especially the part about going on with your life and going back to the Mets game. I did the same thing, and I went to sleep before the President came on because I have a big deadline at work and needed to get my rest. My life had to take priority. And I also looked and smiled at my sleeping son who was not even a glimmer in my eye during the attacks. Great post.

  • […] eloquence in Mets fandom, Faith and Fear in Flushing is a good place to go. There, blog co-authors Jason Fry and Greg Prince offered up their […]

  • Eric Beasley

    Well said-excellent piece!

  • Amy Cronin

    So glad your mom (my former UVA colleague and friend) shared this. An absolutely remarkable piece of writing. Thank you.

  • I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…