Letter From New York, September 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On the anniversary of 9/11 I found myself at a baby shower, thrown by two of the conductors of the trains I ride for two of the passengers. Sixty people were there, forty-five of them from the train community. We laughed, we played games, had a couple of glasses of wine, watched the mothers receive gifts and visited among ourselves. The somber background of the day was not forgotten. On the radio in the morning there was the backdrop of the reading of the names, the remembrance of the gloriously, sweet, beautiful day that was 9/11/2001, a day that could not have been more beautiful, a day that was in perfect juxtaposition to the horror of the day.

At the party, people talked of it, the anniversary. Many commented that there were an unusual number of social events planned for the day. Several at the baby shower had more than one invitation to a social event and there was speculation that many people were holding special events that day because they wanted to leap over the pain of that day, to begin to imprint upon their brains some happier memories – and yet all felt a little a guilty about doing something pleasurable on 9/11. It is a somber day, a holy day in some ways, a day that may remain with us for always as a secular Good Friday, a day in which we will remember the terror that changed our world, forever.

And, at the same time, people are struggling to have life go on in this new reality, which includes terror and tension, fear and fright. Because on September 11, babies are born and folks pass from this earth, love needs to be celebrated and we have to come to terms with the great pain of 9/11 and the reality that the world continues on. Perhaps that’s why this year, more than in years past, there were parties on 9/11, because people are beginning to integrate the reality, the horror of 9/11 into the calendar of their lives.

It was the following day that I felt the spirit, the ethos of 9/11 more than I did on the day itself. I had to return to the city from the cottage early so that I could help with video coverage of a march organized by Religious Freedom USA. Founded by two young men, one a rabbinical student and the other an evangelical Christian, it has devoted itself to fighting intolerance of religious groups in America and right now their focus is on Muslims because they are the group receiving the brunt of intolerance right now.

The day started with speeches at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, around the corner from the proposed Cordoba Center, buildings united, said the pastor of St. Peter’s, by the fact that both were damaged by debris from the same plane hitting the World Trade Center. Josh Stanton, the Jewish half of the founding team, recalled the story told him by his still living grandmother who, as a child, found herself huddled in her home with her parents as a mob surged through the streets of lower Manhattan, ranting as they went, torches in hand, that it was time to kill the Jews.

He was organizing because he did not want a surging mob in the streets calling for the killing of Muslims. At the end of the speeches, there was a mile long march through the streets of lower Manhattan, through the rain, past places in the process of rebuilding, rebuilding from that terrible day that has shifted history. Walking with them brought all of that day back to me and brought back all the weeks following and all the horror, standing on a friend’s rooftop, staring down into the still smoking pit, a miasma of broken buildings and lives, smoldering weeks later, still spewing death.

But out of that horror, out of that smoldering cauldron, the resultant mix should not be hate and bigotry. We should have learned something from our mistake of putting Japanese Americans in camps during WWII, that not all members of a group are the same. My mother told me of our family attempting to downplay our German background during World War I [and II?] because of fear that people would think we were one with the ones we were fighting. Let us look at our history and learn from the mistakes made and do our best not to repeat them.

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