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April 12, 2010
Nobody told Wyatt he was supposed to like trucks and earthmovers and airplanes. Nobody had to -- "airplane" was one of his very first words, and his delight when he discovered that the world is also full of large conveyances that aren't 30,000 feet above our heads, but right down here among us, knew no bounds. Favorite indoor activity: watching Atlantic Avenue from the apartment window and naming the passing vehicles -- flatbed, big rig, ambulance, fuel truck,dump truck, big bus, police car, tall crane, yellow taxi. He knows them all. He has books about them.

His favorite of all is the big digger. The Big Digger, I mean -- because it's a proper noun, if ever there was one. How he loves them! UP! AAND DOWN! he tells me, sliding the pitch of his voice from the top of his limited range to its bottom, and demonstrating how the shovel works on one of his several miniature Big Diggers. He has a shirt with a picture of a Big Digger on the front of it -- met another little boy at the playground who had a dump truck on his shirt, and they stood for a good while in mostly silent communion, staring and pointing with satisfaction at each other's shirtfronts.

Sometimes, as I sit in the living room and listen for him to awaken from his nap, I hear him talking himself back from sleep into the waking world, his voice is like a little flute. I don't catch every word, but I do catch one, over and over: Wyatt emerges from sleep thinking about Big Diggers. Once he awakened unhappy: I could hear hear him in there, trying to comfort himself with the nicest thought he knows -- Big Digger, he said through his tears, Big Digger! Oh, I am so sad. I don't know whether to be asleep or awake. But somewhere in this world, things have just got to be better than they are here in my crib. Somewhere there has to be a Big Digger.

Wyatt sets trends -- everyone in the family is newly aware of the Big Diggers among us, and there are a lot of them. Though I have seen them all my life, I was not looking for them in days gone by, the way I do now. But there is a row of Big Diggers waiting for Monday action at a construction site on a Sunday afternoon. There is one tooling along the highway on a flatbed, on its way to work. There is a Big Digger burying its shovel in a hole and then lifting it -- Up high! -- triumphantly full of rocks and dirt. The world is hard at work, and the Big Diggers pitch in cheerfully.

A rare car trip into the city -- I usually take the train. Down the Westside Highway and up the FDR to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. We pass the World Trade Center, and I feel the same odd sensation in my chest that I always feel there, as if my heart has turned over. They reached into the sky, those twin towers. On a cloudy day, you couldn't see their tops. Then one fine day they were two chimneys, and then they were gone, and a mountain of smoking rubble and twisted steel took their place. Long before Wyatt taught me to love the Big Diggers, long before there was a Wyatt, long before his parents had even met, I would hop out of their way as they swarmed purposefully over the site, their shovels full of God only knew what -- concrete, steel, dust of human flesh and bone.

It is a beautiful day, like that one. And now the site is a forest of tall cranes, as the first of the long-awaited new buildings goes up -- it's already about ten stories tall. Big diggers are everywhere -- the site is busy again, busy becoming what it will be, which will be different from what it was. It would thrill Wyatt, I think as I pass, to see all this construction equipment together in one place. It would be paradise. We must bring him here, I think, and then I stop, surprised at myself for the casualness of the thought -- bring him here, as if it were just a place to see Big Diggers? Because he would not know what happened here.

Well, yes. Somebody will have to tell him someday, but what is being built here will be the only World Trade Center this little New Yorker ever knows. Life only goes forward. We picnic on battlefields and plant flowers in cemeteries, and the children play hide-and-seek among the headstones. They do not know what happened here in the past. But they have a right to the present.

This Saturday at St. Thomas Whitemarsh

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