September 11, 2003

 

"What though the radiance
which was once so bright
Be now for ever
taken from my sight,
Though nothing can
bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not,
rather find Strength
in what remains behind"


In the past two years, I've found myself repeating these words from Wordsworth's poem like an affirmation. Perhaps if I say them enough, some of the grief will be softened by the memory of the strength and beauty that followed. And there was such incredible strength of spirit, such a beautiful feeling of connectedness. At least for awhile.

For awhile, we remembered we were all family. For awhile, we slowed down the pace of our lives and took the time to help someone in need. For awhile, we never let the opportunity slip by to express our love and gratefulness. For awhile, we let our artificial boundaries crumble and saw each other essence to essence. For awhile.

As time passed, that sense of unity and compassion slowly faded. When Mayor Gulianni asked New Yorkers to 'get back to normal' I thought, "God, no. That's the last thing we need". Then a year or so later, when I saw people actually getting into fistfights again over a parking space, I knew Rudy got what he asked for, though I'm quite sure that was not what he meant. Before long the new mayor was threatening to close 8 firehouses to balance the budget, less than two years after so many of New York's bravest lost their lives for the people of this city. A few weeks after 9/11, there was a funeral at the church up the block from me for one of the firefighters who lost his life in the towers. A policewoman was outside and a woman had just come out of her house to offer her a cup of coffee and to thank her. Cops and firefighters were being thanked everywhere back then; on the street, at the subway stations and firehouses...everywhere. A year or so later, police guarding the subways during a 'heightened alert' were hardly glanced at.

After watching how beautifully the recent blackout was handled by the people of New York, it's clear that some of that spirit remains, but does it have to take a crisis to bring it out into the open?

Today, everyone is remembering where they were on that horrible morning. Perhaps it would also be appropriate to think of where we are this morning. The days, weeks and months following this tragedy we took care of each other, loved each other, remembered we were all a part of each other. If the stresses of daily life have caused that sense of family to fade, then we need to take a moment and remember again, and again and again. Not when towers crumble or electric power fails, but moment to moment, person to person. This is the tribute those who perished on that day deserve from us. Not just this morning, but every morning, and every moment in between.

That poem/mantra has not erased my grief. It is still as fresh and raw as the day it began. Perhaps it always will be. But we can find strength in what remains if what remains is a world filled with family dedicated to love and compassion for all its members, whoever they are, wherever they are.

 

"I'll Be Seeing You"

I'll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through

In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children's carousel
The chestnut tree
The wishing well

I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

Words and Music by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain

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midi copyright 2000Bruce DeBoer
used with permission of the composer