Some of our readers may know. Others not. But one of us was impacted by Katrina is a particular way, and the other was in New York on the day of September 11, 2001 and worked at Ground Zero for several months after. I wondered and prayed and discussed with friends about what I should write, if I should write, and why I might write. Maybe I should just let the day slip silently away. That would be easier. But dirty ministry is rarely about ease. So why start now.
The coverage of the tenth anniversary has ranged from well-done to tawdry, sometimes during the same interview. I have not and will not watch or listen to most of it, which means I am currently suffering from NPR withdrawal this week. It is, I realize, a small inconvenience. I have been asked to walk with the representatives of the first responders and others who ministered through their vocation and presence at Ground Zero at our Service of Remembrance and Hope at the Cathedral. I'm still thinking about whether or not to agree. As one friend said, "You are not a shrinking violet, so I respect the sacredness of the moments when you want to be anonymous."
Commentators offer their opinions on what 9/11 meant to us. Certainly loss and grief. A loss of feeling safe and in control. A loss of imagined protection. And the grief that stalks us and claws at us as a result. For many, they will feel grief and cry over an image of the broken towers when they cannot bring themselves to cry over their personal losses and brokenness. I've wondered why.
Grief, I've come to understand, is something we mature into. Children and teenagers do not experience grief the way some adults do, nor should they. Some adults never move past their childhood understanding of grief, unfortunately to their own pain and injury, I fear. Grief is troubling to us for obvious reasons, but I wonder if the most challenging aspect is its bipolar existence that never truly goes away. Grief will sob at the loss of a close friend one moment and laugh through the snot and tears the next. She rests quietly for months, even years, and then is stirred from her slumber at the sight of a particular sunset or the sound of a musical refrain or the tenor of a pitch of laughter. Grief is that profound starkness of standing feet from the imprint of the towers, thinking this is certainly what the seventh circle of hell must look like, and laughing with firefighters over truly raunchy jokes an hour later. Grief hits all cylinders of our humanity.
Grief in my mind, is Wisdom, that She who sits on the throne in heaven, of whom we hear about in Holy Scripture and mystic writings. Wisdom grieves. Wisdom realizes the pain of loss, the hurt of wounds, and the absence of something that was once there. Wisdom does that in her messy, elegant way. Ignorance pretends, "It's all okay," and busies itself with moving on. Ignorance never ever wants to be reminded of the wisdom of grief, and will often point to grief as if it is a sign of weakness, of illness, or of something bad. Lamentable, really, since ignorance is simply trying to hide from the wisdom of the depth of love and loss, something that has never seemed possible over the length of one's days.
For all the things I feel about September 11th, 2001, I think it is the day Wisdom, in her grief, sought me and held me tight. I wanted to break free then, but knew that was not possible. I often think I didn't want to know the insight and gifts she gave me that day or on days and years since. Life might be easier without them. I wonder if I could have learned how to stand in the seventh circle of hell without her help, and I know I could not. Because of Wisdom in her grief, I laugh more deeply, and cry just as deeply. My courage in the midst of things unknown is greater. Dropping off into the great deep with God is still scary, but I have made the journey before and will again (much to my displeasure). She and I sit together in silence at times, remembering the losses, and then Wisdom suggests I've remembered enough, so now I should get the chocolate ice cream and watch Pride and Prejudice. Again.
Details of my grief, my memories, even my laughter over the raunchy jokes of all that was and is and shall be Ground Zero are not important to many. They are important to me and to the few I trust with them. They are simply details, tiny stitches of thread in a bigger tapestry. Somewhere in these days, I hope I find the voice to nod at Wisdom for appearing that day. Perhaps not a thank you. I'm not sure gratitude for particular wounds is wholly possible. We can appreciate the wisdom and insight from the journey and experience of grief and woundedness and still wish we could have taken the correspondance course instead.
The Service at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington has the representatives of those who served at Ground Zero processing with candles and placing them in front of the altar. I've been guarded because I simply haven't been sure about how I will be feeling on that day at that time. But Wisdom has taught me that where we are is often where we need to be, spiritually and otherwise. Perhaps part of my remembrance will be placing that light at the altar as an acknowledgment of Wisdom's presence that day and days since, and a realization and guarded appreciation for the way her light shone through the cracks in this life as I offer my imperfect self in ministry.