I generally wear sunglasses when it's very bright out, but only during the summer. September light doesn't bother my eyes as much--and I like being reminded that short days are still full of sun.
But I grabbed my sunglasses this morning, just in case. And as soon as I got outside and saw the perfect blue sky, not a single cloud, just a slight breeze and maybe you need a light sweater in the shade, I put on the glasses. They changed the sky to a warmer color, closer to July, as if the summer were just beginning, and allowed me to enjoy the walk to services and put off thinking about the pain of this day for a few more minutes.
Last year and the year before weren't so bad. Time seemed to be healing; we were sad, but also learning and growing. Moving on? I don't know--does that ever really happen after a death, or is it more a case of getting used to the tear in one's soul and figuring out how to move around it so the acid only splashes on the edges?
But today, this month, this year, is different. I've never before felt such fear and hatred in the air. Maybe our collective recovery was too fast, and we've relapsed back to those days right afterwards when we stayed awake to keep vigil until the next evil thing fell out of the sky. Or the pace of life has become so quick and unforgiving that the comfort of past flaws seems safer than any kind of change.
At services last night, the rabbi recalled a conversion with a bar mitzvah right after the attacks. What do you want most? he asked the boy. I want it to be September 10 again, he answered. So here it was 9/10 once more, right on the cusp of a new year full of hope and promise, and I thought back to that day before. I was lucky; my life didn't change dramatically in those 24 hours. I was as unemployed before 9/11 as after. (If anything, the sudden, grim economic situation gave me the push I needed to work for myself, which would otherwise have been way too scary.) I lost no loved ones, and had friends and a community to rely on. I am still basically the same person, just older and tireder and a little less trusting.
So I wonder, as we plunge into 5771, what it does take to change? If I--we--can so quickly resume our old lives after the murder of neighbors and threat of war in our own backyards, and then even forget that we were once the persecuted strangers ourselves, is there any hope that we'll ever learn peace? I think so. I want to believe there is. At an interfaith memorial service this morning, where my tears stained the same pews as on that evening nine years ago, the minister of the church whose space we share offered an apology. For years, he said, he listened as his friend the imam (who couldn't join us today because he had to stay at an "undisclosed location") apologized for things he didn't do, sins committed by others who shared his religion in name only. Now, said the minister, it was his turn to do the same, because real Christians do not hate. Then my rabbis led us in song and the Mourner's Kaddish, and I remembered that real Jews don't hate, either. Or real, ethical human beings, whatever they might think about God. This "new normal," the return to comfortable, familiar fear, is not normal at all, and it gave me hope to be in a sanctuary filled with others who knew this as well. I hope and pray that someone can figure out how to slap this entire country in our collective face and make us all understand.