Mario Cuomo, Former NY Governor

Mario Cuomo served as governor of New York from 1983 to 1994. Now a lawyer in private practice in New York, Cuomo is also a well-known radio commentator, public speaker and author. Producer Ric Burns interviewed him during the making of New York: The Center of the World.


Learning from 9/11

Teilhard de Chardin, great French Jesuit, paleontologist and philosopher, said that one of the tricks in life is to convert everything into good. He makes the reference of the stone. You're a sculptor and you have a stone, and the stone has a scar in it. And well, all right, so now you have to sculpt around that scar and you've got to use that scar to make it part of whatever it is you're going to produce that's beautiful, and work with what you have. Play it as it lies. You know. So whatever the circumstance, use it for good purpose.

9/11, how can you possibly use it for good purpose? You think about it. You'd think, as was suggested before, you'd think about: Look, what this reminds you of is the importance of your own life, and making the most of it, because you can lose it in a flash. And if that's all you learned from 9/11, if that's all you remembered, that: My God, you could extinguish life so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and it could happen to me, and therefore I should think harder about the way I spend my life instead of just wasting it. Now, it's not going to teach you what to do with your life, but it will teach you to do with your life, and to do it more and quicker and better. And that can be extremely valuable. It's had that effect on me.

Evolving Toward New Civility

I miss the lights that replaced the towers. The two beams of light, you know for awhile there, then became utterly impractical. And I said, Why can't we keep them forever, those lights? And unfortunately we couldn't. But yeah, you'll miss them.

And then, but the great beauty of living is newness. Infinite newness. Every minute brings a new opportunity. Every minute brings new growth, new experiences. And there will be sadness and nostalgia, et cetera. But there will be much more new excitement, new thrills, new levels of civility.

See, I am one who believes that the world goes from the slime to the sublime. And you can take Darwin and all your philosophers and all your ontologists, and that's the direction. Starts in a big explosion and there's fluid and there's gasses that became fluid and then liquids and then fish and then vegetation and then us and then things that stand up and are supposed to be thinking but still behave like animals, 9/11... gradually, you develop more and more civility, in fits and starts, until you're perfect. And you're all civility. And you really do love one another, and you learn to live together. And the place is perfect. And we're working toward that. The "pleroma," Teilhard calls it. And that's what I believe. And is that made up? Of course it's made up. Can we get there intellectually? No, but you can't disprove it intellectually, either. And I choose to believe it.

And New York City very much embodies that for me. It just keeps coming. You know, it has problems, a street blows up. 9/11 occurs, and you're going to rebuild, and after awhile, the memory will be there, but there will be something new there, and different, and functioning, and electric. So, yeah, the image of the towers will be there, but there will be a new reality as well. It won't be just the memory. It will be the moment that we'll be living in. And it will be beautiful.

My American Experience

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How did you first learn of the September 11 attacks? Do you remember what you were doing when the Twin Towers fell? What did it mean to you? Do you have specific memories of that day?

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