On Remembering

There are a lot of posts and articles today about 9/11, I’m sure, but given the fact that today is now often regarded as a day of remembrance, I want to add my two cents.

I was in middle school in 2001. I was also in Montana, about as far away from the East Coast as you could get. The sky was clear; it was a gorgeous morning. By the time I got to school that morning, the planes had all gone down; before the end of my first class, so had both towers.

We didn’t have TVs on in school that day; I don’t remember if our TVs even had access to outside channels at that point, or if they were merely for watching VHS tapes. In any case, I was aware that we were under attack, but I didn’t know what that meant until I got home and turned on the TV… and proceeded to watch the news footage replaying over and over again for hours.

I don’t remember much else about that day; I know I cried a lot. I think my mom got a little mad at me at one point; my brain remembers it as her getting mad at me because I had been watching TV for so long without having done my homework, but I’m not sure if that’s something that actually happened. All I really remember from that night are those images replaying over and over again; those, I think I’ll remember until my dying day.

When I was a senior in high school, our choir travelled to New York City to sing The Messiah at Carnegie Hall. Though that experience was powerful in and of itself (I will forever love The Messiah), one of the most powerful moments came when we visited the World Trade Center site. This was Thanksgiving 2006; at that point, the site was just a giant hole in the ground, with makeshift memorials outside the fences. Our choir sang an a capella rendition of Jeffrey L. Ames’ “In Remembrance” while we stood nearby. It still gives me shivers to think about it: the song is powerful, anyway (and has some other emotional memories tied to it from tragedies closer to home), and then, to be at a place of such grief… the day was crisp and the sky was clear blue; there were sirens as a cop car went by. It was a powerful moment; I know I wasn’t the only one crying.

Over the years, I’ve always marked this day, along with every other American, but now that I actually live in D.C., everything takes on a new meaning. A few weeks ago, I trekked down to the Pentagon memorial. It was another sobering moment to weave my way through that memorial as I thought about a part of 9/11 that wasn’t shown on TV as much but was no less tragic than what happened in New York. It was again a sunny day with a clear blue sky when I visited; this time, though, it was warm. I was sweating a little as I walked, as I had been walking for awhile. Again, I cried.

I’ve not yet been to the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania, though I expect I will one day. Perhaps the sky will be blue; perhaps not. I’m sure I’ll cry once more.

I’ve always been fascinated by what brings people together, and it seems there are few things as unifying as a tragedy, especially one on this scale. I was a small-town kid who made it through most of 9/11 without knowing what was happening, but it didn’t take me long to join in on the mourning process.

Today comes as I’ve started doing some reading for the new Old Testament Bible study I’ve recently joined, and coincidentally (or, more likely, through God’s unique sense of timing) I started reading Job today. I’m always struck by the end of chapter 2; for all of their faults (and really horrible advice), Job’s friends started out right:

When they saw [Job] from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:12-13)

Job’s friends weren’t there when he was losing his property, his health, or every single one of his children, but it didn’t take them long to join him in the mourning process. Sometimes, that’s all you can do, and that’s all that’s needed.

Though, whenever this day rolls around, I can’t also help but think of my friends and family members who have birthdays on this day (and there are several). Those are reasons to celebrate; there are always reasons to celebrate. Though the grief of 9/11 and other tragedies is strong and lingers on in some form forever, there is always the knowledge that life does continue on. For better or worse, life continues on. As Ames pens in his song:

My tears linger at night, but joy comes in the morning light.

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