The first time I walked the 4 kilometers from the old comune of Assisi to the lower service town, Santa Maria Degli Angeli, as I looked down onto the terra cotta path, my breath was swept away.
From almost the very beginning of the path, each rectangular paver bore the name, age and home of what I quickly realized were World Trade Center victims. The sober finding had me walking slowly, brushing fallen leaves aside with my feet to reveal each one until I became dizzy from the experience. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut......strange names, "stranieri", strangers in this town. How did they get here? Do their loved ones know that they are here?
The path goes on as far as the eye can see and eventually, after thousands of names have been passed, older pavers bearing names of thousands of others who are remembered, continue to line the way to Santa Maria. Are they war dead? There aren't any signs telling what or why these pavers bear names. One can only wonder and one can only feel that each had a life of meaning once upon a time, in their own countries, their own cities and towns.
But none were as precious to me as the names of the innocent loved ones who gave their lives in a war that they were totally unaware of. People, who from the information on their paver were young, perhaps at the start of a career. Some who might have been looking forward to a retirement soon. Some who were related, perhaps two or more leaving parents with heartbreaks running so deep that they will never mend. Wives, husbands, children left behind only to remember a day in history that shook the world and changed all of our lives. Pavers now, bearing witness to the life that no longer exists on this Earth.
I've made the trip to Santa Maria on foot several times. It's a long walk. I love the walk. I feel that each time I am doing it, I am honoring all of them, the people on the pavers. I stop, brush leaves, notice more people from my home town, my birth place, my current home. They're all very real to me. I remember that day. I was in New York City, working on that day. I am sure that some of those very people passed me as they exited trains in Grand Central Station on their way to work for the very last time. Perhaps some rode the train into the city with me. It was the right time and place for such a coincidence.
But, here they rest in memory now and it is so fitting that they are here. Really, no explanation is required for they rest in peaceful memory in Assisi. A place of honor, in the city of peace and goodness, just the way Saint Francis intended.
Rest in peace, you are not forgotten.