It is Friday the 13th, a day of superstition now forgotten in an age when Google will tell us not to be afraid of random occurrences. It is Friday, September 13th, and I did not write a poem for the survivors.
I meant to—meant to as I mean to do many things, like the cross-stitch feather for a friend I betrayed nine years ago in the carelessness of high school where everything matters and kindness suffocates under the weight of it. I meant to write, because today is Friday the 13th, and Wednesday was 12 years.
In the unofficial holiday that is a strange kind of holy, Wednesday marked 12 years that have shaped and reshaped me, that have shaped and reshaped a world living in 12 years of a newly old shadow. Wednesday was 12 years of a rageful sorrow which withered into wars that do not end, spilling into each other across faraway deserts, fading into the background of the news to a nation made deaf by repetition.
This evening I will be going on the first retreat of a new venture, that of being a leader for middle-school aged confirmands feeling out the possibilities of claiming a life of faith for their own. It will be a weekend in Difficulty learning about faith, setting the foundations of a nine-month journey with these kids who were not born yet.
For them, the world has always been in shadow.
For them, the image of those two gleaming pillars smoking in the morning sun is like that of the men pushing a flag up the hill of Iwo Jima—it is iconic, historical; it has always Happened. The kids greeted Wednesday as another day of forgotten remembrance, quickly sliding away into the textbooks like December 7, on which I will have a Christmas concert of Latin hymns this year, hymns that do not remember a port in Hawaii. The kids know “9/11” in their cultural bones, the date that does not need a year yet as we who lived it forget it slowly.
It is Friday, September 13, and I did nothing to remember Wednesday. Yet each day is another something forgotten, is it not? The world is too old to remember the stories of each of its scars—we take that time to burn new ones, ever more creatively, brutally, effectively tearing ourselves to shreds. What then if it only takes 12 years for all the interactions of a day to cover over the memory of a plane pushing itself through glass and steel as though the building had gotten in its way? We did much to remember a man telling us of his dreams, after all—and this is good, and holding ourselves accountable to his challenge is necessary.
But 12 years ago we learned America was not as isolated or invincible as we wanted to believe, that this is not the center of the world or the promised land but a gathering in a whole globe of gatherings who watch each other with suspicious eyes. We are now far more concerned with noting the soldiers “They” are sending, lacerating a government that is floundering in its understanding of a culture far older with anger slow-burning, than we are aware that we have created that government, fed its haughtiness. We are the voiceless shouters, the mob that runs past the miracles of that day to 12 years later, when there are more headstones and fewer hopes. Yet, as I drift through a day meaning to write and never doing so, how can I stand in that failed remembrance and say that anyone else is wrong in their commemoration?
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. … If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! (Psalm 137:1-2, 5, RSV)