We don't need 'freedom' on a building
March 29th 2009
Let the Port Authority use whatever name it wants for the office building of mere steel and glass going up at Ground Zero.
The real Freedom Tower is already there, a magnificent spire of the spirit, soaring with the All-American selflessness shown by so many on 9/11.
This tower soars even higher in the mind when you think of the goodness shown by so many in the aftermath of that unspeakably evil attack, goodness manifested by countless acts of kindness, by the unity of a nation become one.
The tower rises higher still with the bravery and sacrifice of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the belief they were battling that evil.
Even Wall Street did its part early on, its workers making their way through the devastation to get the markets running again.
Then, even as we fought two wars and our finest people came home in flag-covered coffins, greed took over.
Trading became treason as executives became the antithesis of the 9/11 heroes, putting the whole nation at risk to enrich themselves.
Even on Main Street, people became so intoxicated by rising real estate values that they forgot real values.
Soldiers and Marines came home from war in the land of the IED to find their country had become the land of the IOU, its citizens lost in a spree of heedless borrowing and spending.
The nation's great economic thinkers were somehow stunned by the crash that everyone should have seen coming.
The global economy imploded and one result was the Port Authority feared it might lose a potential tenant for the new office building finally going up at Ground Zero.
The tenant was Vantone Industrial of China, which remains a totalitarian state whose favorite words do not include freedom.
In the press release announcing that Vantone had signed a lease for six floors, the Port Authority described the building as One World Trade Center, with Freedom Tower consigned between parentheses.
To some, the (Freedom Tower) seemed a new low in government's continuing failure to properly honor those who died on the day that was supposed to change everything.
But whatever it is called, the office building will be just that - an office building.
The real Freedom Tower is still there. It always was, from the moment the twin towers fell.
The many who died that day included people such as Police Officer Moira Smith, who led a bleeding executive to safety and went right back in to save somebody else.
The way to honor such a true hero is not with thousands of feet of rentable floor space, but by embracing her example and striving to live accordingly.
There are many living examples to follow beyond Ground Zero, examples such as the pilot at the miracle on the Hudson.
Chesley Sullenberger proved his skill and cool with the crash landing. He demonstrated his decency as he walked up and down the aircraft twice to ensure nobody was still aboard before he evacuated.
That is the shining stuff such as makes the true Freedom Tower, stuff such as our President so rightly says will lead us out of the present, economic disaster.
"When each of us looks beyond our own short-term interest to the wider set of obligations we have toward each other, that's when we succeed," President Obama said last week.
Yesterday morning, in weather matching the economic gloom, I went up to St. Anthony of Padua Church in SoHo. Firefighters from Engine 24/Ladder 5 were gathering for a Mass marking the 15th anniversary of a fire that killed three of their comrades.
The firehouse had subsequently lost 11 on 9/11 and two more at the Deutsche Bank fire in 2007.
Yet even as the firefighters prayed for their fallen brothers, their rigs stood outside the church, ready to race to the aid of whoever called for help.
"Every living person in danger or in need," the priest noted.
I looked downtown from those waiting rigs to the void over Ground Zero that no office building of whatever name could fill.
And I saw it, the soaring Freedom Tower, shining with what is best in us, even in the worst of times.