The shock and terror have long since diminished and the emotional rawness has likewise subsided, but the annual recurrence of this anniversary of the attack on New York City by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001, is a painful reminder not just of friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens killed on that day but of the extreme fragility of civilization itself.
Everyone has his or her own special memories of that day. I always remember the beautiful blue sky to which I awoke and under which I went to vote in that year's mayoral primary, during the course of which short trip next door everything suddenly changed. I also remember the eerie gloom that quickly settled over the city, the smell of destruction and death in the air, the empty streets, the roadblocks, the closures - even of Starbuck's. And I remember the 1000+ people pouring into the church three days later for noon Mass on the National Day of Prayer, the prayer service at the local firehouse that Sunday, and then the funerals - at the parish and for weeks on end at the cathedral.
We were a very complacent country that summer of 2001. In some ways, perhaps, we still are; but since September 11 we are also a much more fearful and fretful people. A generation that had grown up in affluence and security suddenly learned how ephemeral such blessings are and that security and civilization aren't automatic but must be vigilantly defended and fought for - although we then quickly got into the habit of farming out that task to a select few while the rest of us resumed our shopping sprees, until that too didn't quite work anymore.
But, on this day, at least, it remains right to pause to remember the lives brutally extinguished and the burden of suffering that became the lot of those who loved them and the beloved city we once all shared.
For those of us above a certain age, who remember 1968, Robert Kennedy's haunting quote from Aeschylus' Agamemnon naturally comes again to mind on this date: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”