The recent controversy over the proposed Islamic center, two blocks from “ground zero” in New York City, shows that, almost a decade after Sept. 11, a portion of our citizenry hasn’t made much progress on post-traumatic healing. In fact, many seem to resolutely, even defiantly, resist the healing process. That reminded me of the column I wrote for the second anniversary back in 2003. We didn’t sow peace, and it seems to be coming back to haunt us:
We share our share of dates that live in infamy – Dec. 7, Nov. 22, April 15 – but Sept. 11 tops the list in terms of instant recognition and immediate, visceral reaction. Most of us no longer think about Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. Most no longer think of JFK on Nov. 22. And all of us try to avoid thinking about April 15. But we may always remember 9/11. It is branded on our collective psyche.
And yet …
The second Sept. 11 since the terrible attack felt much different from the first. It surprised me. Thursday evening, I wandered through Barbara’s and Borders. Gone were the voluminous displays of books written in the aftermath. Even the publishers didn’t think they could milk more profits from a grieving public (could this represent an act of decency on the part of the bottom-liners?). Maybe it’s no longer mourning in America.
I wandered down the Marion Street pedestrian mall and very nearly headed home, but the musicians outside Daily Grind caught my ear. And the full Harvest Moon, rising orange in the east, caught my eye. The breeze was steady, soft and inviting, and really, how many more perfect nights do we have left this late in the summer? Not all of the outdoor tables were taken, so I settled in with a Ginger Peach Iced Tea and listened a spell.
The musicians were middle-aged, two men and two women – a woman on bass, a man on banjo, the other two on guitar – playing a friendly, folksy, twangy, unpretentious blend of Americana, heavy on the wit and wordplay. Very relaxed, and relaxing to listen to.
Lots of passersby were out on walkabouts. The Metra train clanged into the station, discharging late-leavers from the Loop. They headed home, it seemed, in no particular hurry. Couples ambled by, peering in windows. Some sat on benches and sipped or smoked or leaned affectionately against one another.
Pottery was painted in one storefront, hair styled in another. People laughed and chatted, bikers coasted, dogs prowled to the limits of their leashes. Ice cream proved a popular companion. Some pedestrians had their hands full, a grocery bag hanging from each hand.
It was wholly and wonderfully ordinary, a night of unsurpassed peace – what many the world over want, what this country has come to represent. The gift perhaps we alone can give.
Two years ago this night, this country was deep in mourning, and we have grieved long and hard, but no matter how loudly we promise to remember, it is almost impossible to keep life from sweeping us downstream. It’s not that everyone has forgotten 9/11. We simply can’t help moving on, carried by the relentless current of now.
We’re lucky, really, to be so doomed, to be such prisoners of the present. We are a country that grieves collectively, conditioned by mass media to do so. This year we are experiencing the unsettling feeling that many of us are privately acquainted with: when you first realize you’re beginning to let go of grief.
The primary sensation on this most horrific of dates, strangely, is peace. The boulevard berm down the center of the mall is planted thick with brightly colored birdhouses, which will soon be auctioned off for a Pleasant Home fundraiser. Leaves glow from proximity to the self-consciously quaint streelights. A fluttering red, white and blue flag is adorned, not with stars and stripes, but the word “Antiques.”
Businesses shut down, turn off, lock up. The “Thursday Night Ad Hoc String Band” plays “Viva Las Vegas,” “Duelling Banjos” (banjo and guitar actually) and the Beverly Hillbillies’ Theme. “You’re all invited back next week to this locality.” Soon enough they, too, pack up and head home.
The Harvest Moon is higher now in the sky, and yellow, a reminder that we reap what we sow.
Let’s sow this feeling.