In the early days there were the leaflets, thousands of frantically scribbled posters, created of the need to do something. Then there were the funerals, many without bodies to bury, cobbled from a need for structure and ceremony. Now there are the meetings — with lawyers, with investment counselors and, whenever possible, with Kenneth Feinberg, the special master of the Victim Compensation Fund. Feinberg, the man granted full power by Congress to repay the families of 9/11 victims, came into their lives one year ago, a result of legislation created in the same lurching haze as the leaflets and the funerals, legislation born of the reflex to act.
”I cannot make you happy,” Feinberg says to a woman at one such meeting — a mother protesting that her firefighter son’s memory is being cheapened by the government’s offer of $500,000, far less than a bond broker’s family will get. ”I cannot bring people back,” he says, his elongated vowels betraying his Massachusetts roots. ”I can’t.”
”It’s not about the money,” she answers in her sharper New York tones. ”This is not ever about the money.”
But of course it is.
Tragedy, particularly American tragedy, is always and inevitably about the money. As much as we rail against this and insist that it is not true, as much as we would prefer to talk about love and honor and legacy, in the end we find our talk turning to dollars. We do this in part because we need to eat, and to pay the rent, and to continue on with our lives in the face of death. We also do this because cash is the only tangible way to measure infinite loss. READ MORE