Sunday, September 11, 2005

170. Yahrzeit

(On a different topic.)

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina awakened past nightmares, and I've been dreading today's anniversary almost as much as I did the one on Sept.11, 2002. That first year was spent holidng my breath, waiting for the yahrzeit to come and go. Partly I was convinced, in some magical, irrational way, that one day I would wake up in a world where it didn't happen, so why go through all the bother of believing it did? For months I suspected my eyes and ears had been lying, even though I had smelled the smoke in the air and watched endlessly looping images on TV of the pain of my neighbors. On that first anniversary, the eternal present moment of that day finally changed into the past as I looked at the empty sky down Sixth Avenue and accepted that the gap in the skyline was still my skyline, and my New York.

9/11/01 fell between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. I was in the choir, and the rabbis explained that on this Yom Kippur we would forego the usual somber, reflective mood and focus instead on the joy of being with our community--of being anywhere--and of simply having the privilege of a second chance. There would be no instruments, which seemed inappropriate in the face of death, so the choir's task of optimistic consolation would be doubly important. I tried. I thought about how glad I was to be alive, and sang at the top of my lungs. But I also packed my cell phone and planned escape routes (down the back stairs of the church), just in case.

The weather this afternoon is almost the same as on that other day. But it's a little warmer, and the sky isn't as blue. I carry with me a snapshot of an 8AM Tuesday run in the park, watching clouds that looked like cotton through leaves still green and robust and thinking: What a glorious month this will be! As each subsequent Sept. 11 brings different weather, sometimes rain, or trees already brown and brittle, I find it easier to focus on the early hope of that day rather than on what followed. But I'm also afraid to forget. On 9/11/01 I was in the honeymoon flush of my re-acquaintance with Judaism. My world was a newly beautiful place, and it was quite a shock to be reminded that God was responsible for the bad as well as the good. I considered abandoning the whole exercise; I couldn't listen to music for months afterwards, which was just too beautiful and seemed offensive in a world so ugly. Eventually I remembered that very much of life had always been ugly, but my eyes had been conveniently closed. For too long, complacent and full of my own good fortune, I had pushed aside the truth of the suffering of others. If I become numb to the horror of what happened, if I let that day recede fully into memory, I'm afraid I will again forget my responsibility to this world.

Last year Sept. 11 fell out on the holiday of Selichot, so our prayers were codified and expected. This lessened their impact on me; we mourned, but in a prescibed setting. Tonight there will be a memorial service in partnership with the church whose building we use for services, just like on that first anniversary. I look forward to remembering, and being sad.

1 comment:

alto artist said...

Thank you for that beautiful image.