Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Last Friday afternoon, as a hot sun beat down on the City of New York, I made my first pilgrimage to the 9-11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. After a car service dropped us off as close as possible (major construction in still ongoing all around the Memorial site) I saw street names that were familiar to be only by the fact of the numerous books I had read, e.g. Dennis Smith's and the late, Harvey Eisner's. We walked by the 9-11 Museum and the barn of 10 Engine & 10 Truck. From there, we entered the Memorial Plaza.
Let me add here that due to some unknown "kink" in my "armor," I've always worn my emotions on my sleeve. I cry at sad movies; I also cry at the end of happy movies. In juxtaposition, due to my long involvement with Jewish synagogues and ritual, I have also officiated at many (far too many) funerals and unveilings. Yet, I only shed tears at two; one just a month ago for one of my dearest friends and the other was over ten years ago, when I officiated at the funeral of a young man who died from the complications of AIDS. As it turns out, he was a stranger, I had never met. A close rabbi friend of mine who was ill at the time, asked to contact this young man's parent's since his demise was imminent..
They were lovely, warm and loving folks. We connected immediately. After a brief chat, they took me in to meet their son. This handsome young man, ravaged by this horrific disease, greeted me with a big smile as he lay in a hospital bed in his home, in the bedroom where e grew up. We sat and chatted for a while, with much of the conversation punctuated with many jokes, most by him. After sitting with him and taking notes for, what is too often referred to as a, "eulogy," (personally, I prefer "A Review and Celebration of Life), he handed me an envelope. When I went to open it, he told me to stop. Startled, I asked why. He explained that he had written the pages inside and wanted me to read it at his funeral. And, he made me promise that I wouldn't peek inside in any way, until I opened the envelope during my address.
Sadly, he passed just two days. As I addressed the large gathering at his memorial service, I was easily able to keep my composure, even as his parents sat before me, constantly wiping away their tears. The moment to read his personal address came. At the beginning, it was strong, yet pleasant, and yes, even with a few more of his examples of his wonderful sense of humor. Then came a paragraph in which he addressed his parents. That's when my tears began to well up. To help me from losing complete control, I used an old pressure point trick I had learnt from a friend who was an accomplished user of tai chi. The sensation resulting from the pressure on the nerve was enough to allow me to finish his letter, with but a few more tears.
However, I wasn't that lucky last Friday at the 9-11 Memorial. I only had to find a few names of our brothers who died that day and whom I had read about, before the "water-works" started. Both my wife and my daughter knew this would be a difficult time for me, for I've never truly forgiven myself for not jumping in my car and driving to New York from Florida. Due to my back injury and disability, I knew I wouldn't be able to work the pile, however, I thought that with my administrative and computer skills, I could work to help keep track of those missing for those looking for them, or some such administrative tasks. Instead, I worked at our local blood bank for almost 3 full days, until we received word that there would not be a need for blood from around the nation.
Thus, standing at the first Pool and seeing such names as Judge, Ganci, Feehan, Hatton, Mojica and Downey, the tears spilled out faster than I could dab them away. And there were another 338 more. Standing there weeping, I still could not conceive the level of hatred and evil that could have generated such as acts that would ultimately take nearly 3,000 lives.
Today, nearly fifteen years later, that hatred and evil still exists in ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, and many more. Yet, we don't have to travel to exotic places to see this evil. For all too often, we see it in our own civilized societies. Look at the shootings and stabbing in our newspapers and newscasts every day. Whatever the "reason" for taking someones life, that evil has taken hold of the perpetrator..
So, I walked around the pools, my hand touching the inscriptions on each plate, knowing that the families of each and every one of them listed here, were still missing and mourning their relative who was lost that day.
No, not even my pressure-point trick would work this day. As I "tweeted" last Friday, standing there in the footprint of those two towers, I was standing on Hallowed Ground.
Stay safe and let's make sure that Every One Goes Home.