Ten Years and a Day


It’s hard to say what kind of a day it was, ten years after the most horrific tragedy I have ever known.  Two years ago I wrote about my experience on that day and the way it has never left my consciousness; yesterday was no exception.  It was a day of remembrance, tears and bleak thoughts.

It was also, in many ways, a day like all others.  Liturgy in the morning, bracketed by baptism and memorial services.  Two baby boys joined our family, neither of whom had waited for the hospital.  One was born on the bathroom floor, the other on the apartment steps — they were that eager to begin their earthly lives.  After communion I held the more placid of the two; he was a warm, firm lump in my arms, stirring every now and then to nurse an imaginary breast in dreamland.

The memorial was for all those who had died in the terrorist attacks and recovery efforts.  We did not read this prayer by Bishop BASIL (although I have visited the church Rod discusses in the introduction — a remarkable place); it was a memorial service like all the others we have served for parents, friends, cousins and co-workers who have left us, from our point of view, too soon.

We often spend time with friends on Sunday, and yesterday was no exception.  My high-school best friend had a baby shower and surprised me with two guests I hadn’t seen since our graduation; we spent time catching up and looking forward.  On the way home, I stopped to see the friends I had made ten years earlier when, in desperation, I fled my school’s campus in search of a safe place.  My goddaughter brought us peanut butter crackers as we talked over the noise of the football game.  We had dinner with our church family: melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork, velvety rice pudding, and laughter until our stomachs hurt.

But in between, and often during, these rituals of faith and friendship, I couldn’t shake the thought that this was a sad day.  During my hours in the car, I listened to the dedication ceremony at the United 93 memorial, which I was lucky enough to visit this past summer.  The speakers, each eloquent in their own way, gave messages of hope and inspiration, but also of grief.  One disagreed with the conventional wisdom about recovery — to recover, he said, would be to lose the bonds that linked us to those we had loved and lost.  The pain helps us remember, and in its own way, it is sweet.

Later, I heard the names at Ground Zero: two people read about a dozen names each, and ended with personal tributes to their own relatives.  It was almost too painful to hear, but it would have been harder to turn it off.  I listened, tears in my eyes, in rapt attention.

That night, I opened (for the first time in three months of delivery) a copy of the New York Times and read, cover to cover, a special section about the decade of rebuilding in the city.  Fiances who had not married. Children who had not recovered.  Buildings that had not been built — and some that had.  Photos of the moving memorial at Ground Zero, where waterfalls mark the footprints of the missing towers, framed by names of the dead.

Between rainshowers I drove home; I pulled over to take the above photo of a tribute on the roadside.  It would have to represent all the groups I had seen waving on overpasses, the flags flying at homes and churches, and the thoughts in my own heart about this ordinary, iconic day.