Today in New York City is a day so much like that two years ago. The sun is shining, the sky is clear and blue.
But it’s different. There’s a big hole in the New York skyline, a bigger one in the New York bedrock, and many more smaller holes in many more hearts.
Holes need to be filled. The first two will soon be plugged with concrete and steel. The third is not so easily fixed, but that is what most needs mending.
It is hard advice for those who lost most to take. Most of those who died were in their twenties and thirties. The easy consolations of the injustices of age and the silencing of suffering cannot heal these hurts. In its place in the earthly realm are lost years, lost loves, lost lives.
For many, just when people grasp for something, anything concrete in an ocean of eternity, the lost were swallowed, chewed, cooked and digested in that smashed sea of steaming steel, that compacted concrete potter’s field. Nothing to which to say “Goodbye.”
More than one hundred and fifty years ago, Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before The Mast said these words after one of his crewmates was lost going overboard. Substitute “family member” for crew, and I think this well describes the sense of less.
Death is at all times solemn, but never so much so as at sea. A man
dies on shore; his body remains with his friends, and “the mourners go
about the streets;” but when a man falls overboard at sea and is lost,
there is a suddenness in the event, and a difficulty in realizing it,
which give to it an air of awful mystery.
A man dies on shore–you
follow his body to the grave, and a stone marks the spot. You are
often prepared for the event. There is always something which helps
you to realize it when it happens, and to recall it when it has passed.
A man is shot down by your side in battle, and the mangled body remains
an object, and a real evidence; but at sea, the man is near you–
at your side–you hear his voice, and in an instant he is gone, and
nothing but a vacancy shows his loss.
Then, too, at sea–to use
a homely but expressive phrase–you miss a man so much. A dozen
men are shut up together in a little bark, upon the wide, wide sea,
and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their
own, and one is taken suddenly from among them, and they miss him
at every turn. It is like losing a limb.
There are no new faces
or new scenes to fill up the gap. There is always an empty berth
in the forecastle, and one man wanting when the small night watch
is mustered. There is one less to take the wheel, and one less to
lay out with you upon the yard. You miss his form, and the sound
of his voice, for habit had made them almost necessary to you, and
each of your senses feels the loss.
Nonetheless, the sailors still sailed the ship.
Those who plunged their daggered planes did not try to stab a building. They tried to stab hearts, all our hearts.
Terrorism is not meant for the dead; it is meant for the living. Its goal is not to make some people very dead; it is meant to make us all less alive.
They wanted to stop the ship, your ship, our ship, and the only proper answer to that is to live the word, “No.”
We must live to best respect the dead. We must steer a difficult course between the rocks called amnesia and paralysis. It cannot mean nothing; it cannot mean everything.
We must continue to sail the ship.