People will always ask, “Where were you?” when talking about 9/11. Some of us remember all too well; some of us were not even born. The question echoes across time and space, as it did for people long ago when Lincoln was assassinated, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and when Kennedy was also assassinated. Those events are locked into history and qualify a moment in our collective memory, as does 9/11. On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, there is one unrelenting truth: the lost never go away.
As I sat there this morning, transfixed by the televised images of people in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park marking the anniversary by reading the names of those lost, I waited. I waited to hear his name as the tears welled, my son in the playpen too young to know anything about why his father wept. His sister knows why, but she had been only a baby when she lost her uncle; no memory of him is possible for her, except that which is kept alive by stories and photographs and moments like this.
The name was read, a picture was shown, brief details of his age and hometown were listed, and those reading the long list of those lost went on, reading other names, a litany of pain and suffering for those the lost had left behind. The day was impeccably beautiful, as it was nine years ago: a cloudless blue sky, clear all the way to heaven it seemed then as it seems now. We all remember on this anniversary, but for many of us the memory is there as a shadowy part of everyday life.
Sometimes I am reminded of 9/11 by something small, perhaps a bolt of unforgiving sunshine through a window. Other times it is the sound of a revving jet engine, or the screams of people on the beach as big waves prepare to crash. I can see my son standing in the park staring up at leaves on a tree, and his look of wonder reminds me of an innocence lost. The daunting heft of 9/11 weighs on some of us more than others, but it is like that with things that some don’t want to remember but others can never forget.
9/11 is a daily thought for anyone who lost someone. Sometimes it is magnified by things said or done; other times it is a flash in the waking mind, or part of some dark nightmare that revisits without warning. The people we loved and the people we lost were not destroyed on 9/11, not in the sense of their hold on memory and emotion. The physical loss of them not withstanding, the fallen are always there, the evanescent touch of their presence all around us.
For them there is no argument about a so-called “Ground Zero mosque.” They don’t care about tea parties and protesters and the people who wish to denigrate their memory. Terrorists, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the financial crisis are worldly concerns, not theirs. They are beyond the pedestrian squawking of mortals who exploit their memory for their own designs. The lost have risen to a new place and are free of the minutia that some people seem to worry about more than they should, but the lost are still concerned with those they love in this world, and in their ethereal domain they wish that peace will come to those they left behind.
9/11 must always be a day to be remembered for only one reason: to honor the memory of those lost. It is also necessary and compelling for those who were left left behind and all other Americans and citizens of the world who mourn their passing. In honoring the lost well and consistently, we show that the best of America is found in such memorials and has nothing to do with book burning, intolerance, or hatred. Those things are what brought down the Twin Towers and have no place in this country.
We will never forget 9/11 or the persons that were lost that day. Some of us knew them, broke bread with them, and laughed with them. They were our family members and our friends. Many people never met those lost, but their connection to them is palpable just the same. It is an emotional and spiritual connection, and in that we are united on this day each year and forevermore.