Five years. Is it enough time to begin moving on?
A widow's bed still feels empty, but she can balance the checkbook. She can function without him. In some ways.
Is it enough time for the physical scars to mend? A crater remains where the towers soared, but the hum of construction promises new life, someday, in the void.
Time heals, or so the saying goes. But how much time does it take? And how much change does that time bring, to us as a nation and as individuals?
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Security. Freedoms. Regular people finding their way in a world transformed by one terrible day.
Five years have passed. What difference has it made for us all?
Alive isn't necessarily living
Every day the past and the present collide in Barbara Minervino's life -- in household chores, in a stranger's question.
"Are you divorced?"
On a cruise, a rare escape, another passenger wonders why there's no man by her side.
"No, I'm a widow," she replies.
Then Minervino has to decide, yet again, whether to explain that her husband, Louis, was murdered by terrorists in the World Trade Center, weeks shy of his 55th birthday.
At home, she balances the checkbook, changes light bulbs, determines which night to take out the trash. But she remembers how Lou took care of those things, how she relished being his protected princess in their 25 years of marriage.
She crawls into bed, alone, but still reflexively fumbles for his hand in the dark. They used to fall asleep holding hands, but now all she feels is the night air.
"I'm here. I'm alive," she says at her home in Middletown, N.J. "But if you ask me if I'm living, I'm not quite sure about that because there were two parts, and he's the other part that I'm missing."
On Sept. 21, 2001, Minervino and her two daughters held a memorial for Lou, although the family had nothing to bury.
On Sept. 6, 2002, the New York City medical examiner's office called to report that a fragment of Lou's right shoulder had been found. It would be another year before Minervino could bring herself to bury it.
Whether time can completely restore her faith is another matter. A Roman Catholic, Minervino consulted a priest in her quest to find a way to forgive. He suggested that if God had absolved the terrorists, they could be in heaven right alongside her husband.
That made it impossible, for a while, for Minervino to recite the Lord's Prayer. She simply couldn't utter the passage, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Minervino has learned to go on. But moving on? That's not so easy. Her mind says forgive; her heart screams don't. Her mind accepts that Lou's gone; her heart wants to keep him alive. "I still feel very much a part of a pair," she says.
Mourning Main Street
For a long time, the first year maybe, ground zero still felt like Esther Regelson's Main Street.
She could picture the coffee shop where she fed the sparrows. The Amish produce market. The place she bought lottery tickets.
She lived two blocks from the World Trade Center for 23 years. The stores at the bottom of the twin towers were her haunts.
On Sept. 11, the second jet to fly into the towers went right over her apartment building. She and her cats were boated to New Jersey.
When she returned six months later, ground zero was closed off by police barriers while it was cleaned of debris and bodies then guarded by a metal mesh fence while the battle over what to build there and who would pay for it played out.
Now, what Regelson calls "the Grand Canyon" is as much a part of the neighborhood as the towers and the market were. Work has begun on a memorial and a skyscraper that will extend 1,776 feet into the sky. The height evokes the year of America's independence, and the structure has been christened the Freedom Tower.
Construction is going on 70 feet below ground -- heard but not often seen.
"I can't even picture anything else there right now," Regelson says. "It's so become part of my subconscious."
While she waits for something to emerge from the hole, the tiniest glimmers of her past have returned.
She calls them red-letter days. The day her hallway was cleaned of the white dust that caked everything. The day the electricity came back on. The reopening of a restaurant across the street that she never favored -- until it disappeared.
The big hole is a chasm in the quality of her life. But she can't afford to move and doesn't want to. She is devastated that plans to build condos could force her out.
"I keep things. I keep this neighborhood as my history," she says as tears come outside a new Starbucks that opened a block from her home.
"It's my neighborhood, and I knew it when."
Defense of civil rights
Peter Chase once defended the right of libraries to stock a racy Madonna book. It was, at the time, one of the biggest controversies of his career. Then came the Patriot Act and an FBI demand for library records as part of a terrorism probe.
"I never expected to be called on to defend the Constitution," says Chase, who now oversees a public library in Plainville, Conn.
The debate over the delicate balance between maintaining civil liberties and fighting terrorism has intensified since Sept. 11.
Words like "Warrantless wiretapping" are now part of the nation's lexicon. Civil rights activists called for investigations into reports that phone companies forked over records for a National Security Agency database.
And Chase was revealed as one of several "John Does" in a constitutional challenge to the government's power to demand library records without a court order. The case ended in June after authorities discounted the threat they were investigating.
But Chase sees the world through newly cynical eyes. When he learned the government had been listening to phone calls without warrants, he wondered whether his own calls had been monitored.
"We have to swing much more back in the direction of freedom and open government and trust in democracy," says the librarian. "We are far too secretive."