"To write your memoirs is to draw up a balance sheet of your life so far.....Memory, after all, may well prove voracious and intrusive.....remembering means to shine a merciless light on faces and events, to say 'No' to the sands that bury words and to forgetfulness and death. Is that not too ambitious?" Elie Wiesel
I want to, and can, remember September ninth and tenth of thirteen years ago.
Along with our son and daughter-in-law, we spent a lovely Sunday in Manhattan, walking and enjoying the end of Summer in a city that was full of life and happy people as they readied for the new season. I remember being at the 12:15 Mass at Holy Family Church a block away from the U.N. Building, and the incense that almost overcame us. Incense is a word derived from the Latin incendere, which means "to burn." It is a sacramental used to venerate, bless, and sanctify; its holy smoke, intended to keep demons away.Was that moment a foreshadow I now wonder?
I remember the next day, thinking how fortunate we had been for the incredible weather of the day before, as I picked up my routine and traveled into work on the train. The sunshine of the previous day was but a memory as the new day held the prospect of an evening storm. Clouds hung in the sky as if they were a curtain, one that would all- too-soon open, unveiling a show, too horrific to believe. I remember bits and pieces, not every moment, and it is those last two days that I hold sacred and view as the last of a life that now seems to never have existed in the first place. It did exist but, in comparison to the next 4,475 days, it was light and carefree. It is a life that I want so desperately to remember for now and for all time.
The thunder and lightning that finally arrived by late in the evening of September tenth was simply a taunt, an escort to the most brilliant morning I can ever recall. Tuesday, September eleventh, 2001 started out with the bluest blue sky, not one cloud, not one trace of anything wrong. The sun, from the moment it rose, burst on the scene as if it were a happy child attempting to distract a parent from something naughty being schemed by a younger sibling.Look at me! Look at me! Oh please, look at me and don't turn away.
I remember where I was. The visual image remains today as fresh as if it had just been five minutes or less, ago. I remember it took an entire day, an entire day that was filled with sunshine, to loosen myself from the routine that I had clung to, the one that would try so hard to convince me that this could not have happened, that everything was still just as it had been hours before, that everyone was simply over-reacting and that tomorrow would be a new day, one more like the day before the day before. But, I remember the young man and woman on the commuter train, covered with ash, their faces, like Halloween masks. I remember how animated they were, how vaguely out-of-place they appeared and wondered if they knew each other before today or had they just met. It wasn't until years later that I thought long and hard about them and about the days that followed and I wondered if they ever returned to the city. I wondered why, not one person spoke to them, how we simply allowed our denials to keep us from holding them in our arms, keeping them safe until they reached their homes.
And then, I want to remember, but it is impossible to, the people who passed by me in Grand Central Station that morning. How many of them would continue their journey downtown after criss-crossing in front of so many others who also were innocently making their way to the workplace on that sunny morning. How many of them would not be returning? How many would be riding the trains, covered with what had earlier fallen from the sky,un-holy smoke. I want to go back in time. I want to stand in the center of the station, holding a thurible full of incense, blessing and sanctifying, keeping the demons away and the gates of hell closed.