The attacks happened on a Tuesday, I believe. The following Saturday the powers that be in Seattle, responding to a wounded and grieving public who positively ached to do something--anything--, decided to schedule a flower memorial in the fountain in Seattle Center. They scheduled it, as I remember, from 8:00 am to noon. That same night, I had tickets to see James Taylor in the Key Arena, also in Seattle Center. I thought about not going--the country was in mourning, the world seemed to be too fragile a place for music. But he didn't cancel the concert and I guess I figured that if he could do it, so could I. The concert turned out to be a wonderful thing. The audience thirsted for this--for something gentle and peaceful and safe. I remember one man shouting "You're what we need right now!" and not one person laughed. The moment in the concert I most remember was when he sang "Fire and Rain" with only guitar accompaniment. Most of us sang along, as people do at concerts. Then he came to the lyric "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground", and it was the first time I had ever felt the collective sob of thousands of people, the exhalation of grief as palpable as the chair in which I sat. We all cried, and we all sang.
After the concert, I made my way over to the fountain to see the memorial. Remember, it was going to be open to people laying flowers until noon. It was now around midnight, and full dark. Closer to the fountain, though, it was not dark. It was lit by countless candles, held by a line of people that went as far as I could see, all of them waiting to lay flowers. The fountain was overflowing, and people were starting to lay them on the path. They were peaceful, but they would not be stopped. Then, there was the silence. In my entire life, I've never felt a silence so profound, nor seen so many people be so silent together. People cried, but we didn't talk. We didn't have to. We grieved together. We felt the pain, and we wanted to connect and to give and to weep as one. And we did.
I read somewhere (and I wish I could recall where so I could credit it) that this was the time in which we learned that we belong to each other. I feel my heart cramp when I read this because it rings so true to me. St. Catherine of Sienna was quoted as saying that "we need each other's care, or we will suffer". All of us that night, we understood both those things. We understood them without words. The truth was all around us, unspoken but loud as any bell.
Five years later, I woke up this morning to find a link on MSN, inviting me to write in with my memories of where I was, and what I was doing on that terrible day. I didn't do it, and I'm not going to do it now. Because here's what I think is more important:
Where were you when you first realized the fullness of human compassion and decency as more and more rescuers risked--and sometimes lost--everything to try to save strangers? Where were you the first time you heard that rescuers and clean-up crew and everyone in that 24-7 hellhole stopped everything they were doing and removed their hats and honored a moment of silence to pay respect to someone they'd never known each and every time some form of remains had been found? Where were you when the capacity for human goodness and the very real connection between us cradled you and comforted you in your grief? I was standing at a fountain in a candlelit midnight, weeping with strangers who were not strangers, in a sanctuary from more than one darkness.
In the end, I guess I want to say this: I do not choose to divide my life into "before" and "after" a hideous, hate-filled act; rather, I choose to think of it as "before" and "after" I began to understand the real depths of human goodness, grace, compassion, strength. I choose to remember and cherish the moment of knowing--really knowing--how deeply we belong. To each other.