This morning I watched CNN’s “real time” coverage of 9/11. Living in Los Angeles at the time, I was reminded how I woke up that awful day. My mother, a time zone to the east, woke us with a phone call: “something terrible has happened in New York, turn on your TV.” This morning I sat in front of my computer and cried as I relived the feelings of that day, watching the second plane hit the tower, and watching first the south tower and then the north tower collapse into a cloud of smoke.
The CNN reporter said “there are no words.”
And then he kept speaking, mumbling nonsense, perhaps because silence is too solitary.
Five years ago, a week after 9/11, I gave my first High Holiday sermon as a student rabbi serving a small congregation. I started my sermon with the words “On Tuesday September 11 our lives changed.”
Five years later, I would have to say our lives haven’t changed all that much.
For those of us who did not personally lose a loved one, the passage of time has eased the memory of that terrible day into something we don’t think of much except when there is a commemoration. The passage of time has eased the negative effects, the fear.
But the passage of time has also eased the positive effects. The momentary outpouring of unity, the great upsurge in charitable giving, has also receded into memory. We all stood united with New York, yet five years later the site of the World Trade Center still sits empty because New Yorkers certainly were not united on what to build or not build there.
Five years later, not much is really different. Lines at the airport are a little longer because of security. Not such a big difference. We still live in a world filled with far too much hatred and violence and not enough love and caring. We are not living our lives in fear of terrorism any more than we lived our lives in fear of terrorism on September 10, 2001. At the same time, despite five years of struggle we certainly have not won the war on terrorism. It’s still there as a threat, just one we don’t think of much.
And perhaps that forgetfulness is a blessing. If our memory was too good – if that day remained too solidly etched in our memories – it would be hard to function. There is a Chasidic teaching which says that forgetfulness is a great blessing, for if people always remembered that they too were mortal, that they too were going to die, they wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.
I want to offer a prayer, but it is so hard. We keep praying for peace, yet peace seems ever more elusive. We pray that our enemies will repent of their evil, and we pray that we will be as courageous in waging peace as we have been in waging war.
Yet ultimately, when confronted with tragedy, the CNN reporter was right: “There are no words.” The Bible tells us when the high priest Aaron was told of the tragic deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu, his reaction was the same. Vayidom Aharon. And Aaron was silent.