The date always seems to stand off the calendar, kind of frozen in time – 9/11 – that it’s easy to forget exactly how much time has passed. 9/11 is one of those days that falls into this both/and space. In one sense it feels like it happened yesterday, where one can remember where they were, what they were doing, how they felt minute by minute that awful day and the days and weeks that followed . And then there are moments when the reality of how much time has actually passed really clicks.
That happened last night for me. Talking to a group of college students as we were going over tonight’s “Newman Night” – our weekly meetings for Newman Catholic Campus Ministry where we will focus on “heroic virtue” as we remember 9/11, I proposed that maybe we could let people share where they were, what they remember, what were some of the things that they feel about the day. That’s when one of the students said “Father Jim, I was only three.”
They really don’t remember the day at all. They’ve practically lived a life of post-9/11. Grew up with the aftermath and the remembrances of the day, but really don’t have any of their own.
For me, that hit me in a deeper way the more I reflected on it late last night and throughout this morning watching the telecast of the memorial with the reading of all the names. One of the nearly 3,000 funerals that were held in the weeks after 9/11 was for the grandson of parishioners of mine. The layers of heartache that this family had, and these grandparents endured who lost two grandsons that day was overwhelming.
At the first funeral, held about a month after 9/11 when hope that maybe he could be found was completely gone, in the front pew sat his beautiful wife, his parents, my parishioners – his grandparents. And not sitting, but crawling around being passed from relative to relative was his two beautiful children… One who was a baby and one who was nearly 3 years old.
These kids don’t remember 9/11 and were robbed of their own memories of their father. They have grown up in families who had to mourn, had to regroup, had to move forward and raise these beautiful children and provide some “normalcy” while balancing their unimaginable loss. And sure, the kids have probably known their was something different about their upbringing compared to their friends. But at the same time they couldn’t really ever fully know why.
A quick facebook search revealed how the kids have grown up. They aren’t frozen as that day or that time period was for me. That I remembered them. No 17 years has truly passed. They look just like the kids I’m privileged to serve on a college campus.
I suppose that’s one reason this day must remain a day that we do stop. We do remember. We do mourn. We do pray for the victims and their families. We proclaim that we will “never forget.” We do all this in part for those who couldn’t possibly ever remember.