Today dawned bright and beautiful, just like September 11 ten years ago. (I have already told you where I was and what I was doing that day; if you missed it, you can find my story here.) I have always thought that September and October are the most beautiful months in this part of the world. It might be because the weather is most reliably good at this time of the year - October is, in fact, our driest month, and September is almost always still summery but not brutally hot. Or it might be because I find the return to routine that comes with the beginning of the school year to be satisfying and calming. Or it might be because I have always associated September and October with an opportunity for a fresh start: my birthday comes at the end of September, and so does the Jewish new year celebration, which always made more intuitive sense to me than the secular January new year.
We went to our regular church service this morning, and then we headed home as quickly as we could for our town's memorial service. Our town has a pretty little "Peace Plaza," built in 2001 in the midst of the municipal complex. A few hundred people crowded into that space to see the police force's honor guard, hear remembrances, and listen to the high school honors choir's tearjerking rendition of "America the Beautiful." (My daughter Becky sings soprano in that choir, so I snagged myself a prime seat and tried to catch the whole thing on my iPhone. No luck - as you will recall, I am not a very good photographer - but I felt I'd be remiss if I didn't try.)
I don't think there's a lot I can add to the national dialogue about the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The subject has been exhausted in the media, in the public discourse, and of course on Facebook and Twitter, where people have proclaimed their undying love for the land of the free and have changed their profile pictures to images of the Twin Towers against a red, white, and blue background. People are exultant in their declarations of patriotism, in their quotations of lyrics, and in their praise of the New York police and fire departments. Some people (and these are the ones for whom my heart aches) mourn the loss of loved ones, of friends and family members taken too soon and by surprise on what otherwise should have been a normal Tuesday late-summer morning. That thought, rather than the land-of-the-free talk, is what gets my tear glands working. It's not easy to have children, or to find your soul mate, or to make lifelong friends. Having them ripped from you in a senseless act of violence can shake anyone's faith, and would cause a pain that could never be assuaged by mere images of flags or singing of songs.
My denomination has a big cathedral in Newark, New Jersey, at which a large memorial service was held late this afternoon. This morning, a woman in my church asked whether I would be attending. "No," I said. "I need to go home, because Becky is singing in our town's memorial at noon."
"Oh," she said. And then, conspiratorially: "I'm not going either. I would, but I heard there would be Muslims there."
At hearing this, my heart sank with sadness again. I do not know this woman well, but I liked what I knew of her until this morning. Now, all I can think is: the terrorists won. They successfully sowed seeds of hate, which have taken root in fertile ground. We do not learn. We do not grow. We do not open our hearts, despite the overwhelming signs, all around us, that we must, if we are to survive.
If you are in mourning, I wish you peace. If you are angry, I wish you peace as well. Peace seems to me to be the eternal question, and the only viable answer.