Walking down Fifth Avenue just after dark last night, we could see the two commemorative 9/11 light shafts. They were at the foot of Manhattan, shining their seemingly endless high blue columns into the sky.
The day itself – September 10 – had been weirdly reminiscent of September 11 in 2001. Absolutely beautiful weather, not a cloud in the sky, a very moderate temperature, and it was a day for being glad of the opportunity to be out.
As we walked, I began to think about today – our own Day of Remembrance or, what I like to think of as our Day for Reflection, as many of us have come to think of September 11th. I wondered what it would be like, and if we could find time to reflect, to try to be a little quiet, to find a place to sit and have a few thoughts about where we are as a society. Or better yet, to gather with some loved ones and friends and speak with them about what 9/11 means to us all. For me that group – when we can have such a conversation – includes young people who were children when the attacks came and I find myself – perhaps a little reluctantly – sharing my impressions and letting them have a tiny and very personal sense of what I felt that day.
I’ve shared some of my thoughts before, and as I say in one of the posts I’ve written about 9/11, as I get older and think about how I’ve changed and how our society has changed in twenty years, I wonder about how important it is to tell the story. But I also try to recognize that my story is just one of many, many stories, probably somewhere in the millions I suppose, and I try to figure out just what it is about my story that’s different, that is worth telling again. I’m not sure my story is that much different from the others.
At the same time, though, as someone who deals with learning all the time, whose profession has been built around the process of knowledge sharing and on the value of knowledge sharing, I recognize that it is important to talk about what we experience and, just generally, to talk about our experiences. We all learn from them and from each other, and as we share what we learn, hopefully what we share can be of some use or value to others, to our hearers.
So I recognize that there might be some interest in my experience on that memorable day and, if nothing else, perhaps something that can be of benefit to those who might want to read my thoughts and about my experiences in 2001. In this blog, there were these three posts, and I offer them to anyone who wants to take the time to read them, especially to younger friends who might like to have the thoughts of people who experienced 9/11. The posts were 9/11 (2020, describing some of my personal experience on the day), Observing 9/11 (2016, about the on-going tension between optimism and pessimism), and Ten Years Later (2011).
[And I apologize for including twice William Faulkner’s famous comment from his Address Upon Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature on December 10, 1950. Just quoting it once would have made my point but Faulkner’s comment relates to what a lot of people think about our humanism: our “spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice.” And that humanism will endure.]
There are, of course, more structured observances happening today. Ceremonies, interviews, news columns and editorials, and television documentaries make up a large part of what’s on offer. In New York, our local classical music station is playing appropriate music for the day, and tonight some of us will be at the Metropolitan Opera for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem: The Met Remembers 9/11. Ten years ago, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, for the same purpose, performed Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (“Resurrection”), which, as it happens, was performed for another purpose last Saturday and Sunday in Damrosch Park here in New York City by the Met’s Chorus and Orchestra, to commemorate the opening of the opera house after being closed since March, 2020.
All of these observances, all of this inspiring music will help, as we attempt to deal with what is happening in our society, and with what has happened, especially over the past eighteen months. And with our nervousness about what’s coming next, the questions keep coming up: What are the next steps? What can we – as optimists – do to influence, to counter – where necessary – the specifics of what is harming our society? How do we look to building and to repairing what’s wrong with our society? What did we learn from 9/11?