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One Year After

Thursday, September 12, 2002, 20:52 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

Yesterday, on the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist aggression against America, my normal daily activities were peppered with memorial observances and personal reflection. My feelings were, paradoxically, both as fresh as a year ago and as full as only the passage of time can make them. As a music lover, my thoughts throughout the day often came in the form of favorite songs.

The previous day, I had celebrated one year since starting my current job. Members of my training class had met for lunch and had talked about how we first met, having no idea what would happen just 24 hours later.

Time is was,
And what a time it was,
It was…
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago… it must be…
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories;
They’re all that’s left you.

“Bookends” —P. Simon

The first organized observance was led by the senior management team at my office. Several hundred of us gathered outside the building for a minute of silence at 8:46 a.m. Eastern time, the exact time when the attacks began, followed by a ceremony in which all who wished were invited to toss a spade of dirt around the roots of a newly planted tree. There were no speeches or verbal instructions; everyone knew what to do. The only sounds were the tolling of church bells, the passing traffic, and the murmer of employees slowly making their way back inside.

At 9:30, we were patched in via the public address system to our corporate headquarters in Tennessee, where a service was taking place. A brief, simple introduction by the CEO gave way to prayers by a minister, a rabbi, and a priest, followed by communal singing of “God Bless America.” It was hard not to think back to a year before when I heard first about the carnage in New York City, then the attack on the Pentagon, and finally a mysterious crash in western Pennsylvania.

Eyes, look your last,
Arms, take your last embrace,
And lips, oh you, the doors of breath,
Seal with a righteous kiss,
Seal with a righteous kiss.
The rest is silence.
The rest is silence.

“The Flesh Failures” from the musical Hair
based on the words of Shakespeare

For some reason I don’t fully understand, the afternoon was less surreal. But I had heard that morning about the Rolling Requiem, coordinated performances in every time zone of Mozart’s great final work, which I thought would be an appropriate selection to play on my computer’s CD drive. I remembered that Mozart, like many of the attack victims, died young.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis, te decet hymnus,
Deus in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem;
exaudi orationem meam, ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them;
to thee is due a song of praise,
O God, in Sion, and to thee a vow
shall be paid in Jerusalem;
grant my prayer; to thee all Flesh shall come.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual llight shine upon them.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Opening lines of Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
—W.A. Mozart, 1756-1791

The most extravagant observance came in the evening at the park down the street from my house. The multimedia presentation featured the town’s police and fire color guards, several speeches, prayers of many faiths, songs sung to and by the crowd. The emcee tried to make it almost a pep rally atmosphere, figuring, I suppose, that it’s been a whole year. But people’s reactions seemed to reject that in favor of a more somber tone; it’s been, after all, only a year.

High winds precluded the planned lighting of candles at dusk. The service ended with a video display of the roll of victims at all three sites and on all four hijacked planes. Those victims from New England, birthplace of the American Revolution, were noted in blue. I was surprised by how many there were.

O beautiful for patriots’ dream
That sees beyond the years;
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee;
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

“America, the Beautiful” —K.L. Bates

Leaving the park, I realized that the most moving, most appropriate, and most comforting observance of the day had been the one at which no one had said a word. What was there to say that could capture lived experience? I walked home alone, clutching my unlit candle and one of those cheap printed plastic flags, the small ones stamped “Made in Taiwan” and slipped onto a hollow plastic stick. I used to think they were cheesy, but now I’m happy to have one. It sits propped up in a bud vase in my living room.

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