Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'intrate.
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." These words were written above the entrance to Dante's Inferno. Down by Lexington and 26th, at the Armory, Dante's words seem to have come to life. There's even smoke in the air.
The Armory, as most people watching CNN know, is currently the central location where the families of the missing go to register, to provide information, to institutionalize their hopes. The networks can't give a sense of the building's size, its forbidding demeanor, its Gothic ornamentation. It might have been built that way to remind its intended inhabitants, and its observers, of the gravity of the use of force. Today, no one needs to be reminded.
Outside the Armory, harsh lights from the cameras and the press trucks illuminate the knots and crowds of family members. Many of them are wearing signs with the information of their loved ones written on them in great detail. You're struck by the neatness of the handwriting on the signs, the amount of self-control and care it took to write short, heartbreaking messages like "Father of six month-old twins" in clean magic marker.
The amazing thing is that, looking at these individuals, the conclusion one has to come to is that Dante is wrong: even in the midst of this inferno, there is hope among the family members. As they look into the cameras and tell their stories, the looks on their faces suggest that they truly believe that there's a chance that they will be reunited once more with their loved ones.
And it is this, along with the outpouring of sentiment and volunteerism from the rest of New York that provides something, whether that be cold comfort or a bulwark against despair. Spirits of New Yorkers - even those New Yorkers most deeply touched by this tragedy, the families of the missing - seem to have been bent, but they haven't been broken. And if there's anything that can make all of us a bit less despairing, it's that.
As I write this after midnight, news has just come over the television that a woman is on a cell phone with her husband, and that ten police officers are trapped, still alive, inside the rubble. Hope may not spring eternal in New York after September 11, but it's not quite vanquished yet.