Those who know the terrain will realize that this is a very short jog indeed. It's no secret: by the time I started seminary, I was already past my athletic prime, and working hard on my present pear shape.
Anyway. Not the point.
It was a few years later -- two seminaries, three or four churches, marriage and a cat -- that some sons of bitches decided to hijack a pair of airplanes and fly them into my old neighborhood.
I wasn't living there at the time, but serving a parish in suburban Nassau County. Here's the thing about the 'burbs: their economy depends, to a significant degree, on proximity to the city, because that's where the money comes from. My congregation, which was very large by northeastern standards, included a lot of people in the financial industry. Also a lot of cops and firefighters. A lot.
You see where this is going, right?
A lot of people had it worse. I was many miles away from the site. I didn't have to evacuate my home, or stare up at the plume for days on end, or live for months with the smell of crushed concrete and incinerated flesh. I wasn't permanently traumatized. I didn't die. All these things happened to people that I know and to some readers of this blog. Compared to them, I walked away unscathed. Compared to them, I might as well have been living in Saskatchewan.
I didn't even have it bad compared to the guys at the local Roman parish. We were big, but they were bigger still, and even more heavily Irish -- meaning more cops, more firefighters. More dead people. More funerals. It went on for months, as body parts were found. (That's something they don't tell you about. I led two funerals for the same guy -- the first time after he was declared dead, and the second time when they found some "tissue." Don't ask what that means.) No, the guys at St. Killian's had it a lot worse.
But everything's relative. It was still my old neighborhood. They were still my friends and family and colleagues and church members. It was still the second-worst day of my life, and you will never, ever, read about the worst day.
So here's the thing: I know that all over the country, people are putting up signs that say "Never Forget," and showing pictures of those two towers, which for the record I thought were the ugliest damn things ever built. People put those signs up every year, now. It's like wearing green on St. Patrick's Day. I know that at this very moment, were I to look at Facebook, I'd see the same phrase repeated, over and over, mostly by people who were living far away at the time. And I know that they mean well.
But I need to say this, the way I do every year: If I could forget, I would. There are few things I would like better in this world than to forget. And I actually resent the signs and the slogan, because they remind me that some people may be able to do what I want to, and I envy them.