Saturday, September 11, 2010

Paging Oblivion

As longtime readers know, I lived, right through my first year of seminary, on Hudson Street, in the part of Manhattan called TriBeCa. It was a sweet little bachelor pad, an illegal studio with no toilet. (Funny story.) My usual evening run took me out onto West Street, down past the World Trade Center or, since it had a few specks of grass, the World Financial Center, through Battery Park City, past the ferry landing, and up Wall Street. I'd pass Trinity and St. Paul's, then dog-leg my way home.

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.

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