New York, NY: There is something about that ten year mark that makes us think we have reached a milestone. A decade has passed since the September 11 attacks and the nation and the world remembers it with us. It seems at once like yesterday and a whole lifetime ago.
My early morning was spent at St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street, honoring the firefighters who lost 6 members, their chaplain and mentor and mine too, Father Mychal Judge. I stayed for the ringing of the bells…8:47 when the first plane hit Tower One. ..ding ding ding. 9:03 when the second plane hit Tower Two…ding ding ding. The proud crowd of New York City firefighters stood at attention in their Class A Blues. Then I headed down to Ground Zero for the reading of the names. When James Taylor sang “Close your Eyes,” there wasn’t a dry eye for miles. Paul Simon strummed his masterpiece “Sounds of Silence” to a meditative crowd. You could hear a pin drop among several thousand strong.
I got a note from a cousin in Berlin who wrote, “Thinking of you and remembering those who died. But remembering the living too and how we have grown closer.” It was true. New Yorkers fell in love with each other that day. “We are all New Yorkers now,” the sentiment echoed across the 50 states. The world was in love with all Americans. Compassion for the suffering of innocents melted their hearts. Strangers became friends instantly, tied together by a common cause of service.
But love is fickle and passion doesn’t always last for long. Americans and the world fell back into conflict and forgot their better selves. Violence, greed, hate and fear took over where love once stood.
Yet I saw something new today when I observed my fellow mourners. For the first time in ten years, I saw smiles on the faces of the firefighters and Franciscan priests who gathered on the steps of the midtown church. On West Street, throughout Tribeca and Battery Park, people were laughing and smiling. Police were watchful and attentive, but even they seemed lighter hearted. All around me, people jogged, shopped and talked–bustling with the pace of the city. Life to the fullest went on.
A memorial service in Point Lookout, New York where many FDNY members live, was labeled, “Building a Bridge from Mourning to Hope.” That was the emotion I felt as I walked the busy streets of Manhattan: hope.
Hope that we might remember that life is so fragile and precious, we should cherish every moment. Hope that even through the darkest times, light will emerge at the end of the struggle. Hope that no matter what terrible things we humans do to each other, kindness and love endure over hate.
As one victim’s mother said when she announced her son’s name, “This experience has shown me that goodness doesn’t just exist in the movies. In real life, there are people out there who will catch you when you fall.”
In truth, catching each other when we fall is the best path out of our misery. All we really have is one another. Ten Years after that September day, I remember the dead and the living and how this tragic event brought America and the world a little closer. That does seem like a milestone to me.