It is impossible to say when raw events melt into memories, and then meld into memorials and traditions. It’s not a linear process; it’s more like the surf rolling in and out on the shore on a falling tide. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the impact draws away. It is still there, just gradually removed.
Beautiful days with gorgeous skies in New York City in early September probably will always roll up on those who were here on September 11, 2001 like a heavy dark ocean swell passing by. The tradition now of sending twin towers of light soaring into the sky above lower Manhattan from sunset, Sept 11 all through the night—lights which actually can be seen a day or two prior each year as they are tested—will always bring another heavy sea surging onto our mental shores. And the reading of the names, the tolling of the bell, the sad music and the solemn faces will weight us more.
I searched on the Internet for the name of David Fontana as I started writing this, remembering the fireman who called upon me at home a few months before the attacks to talk about his research on the history of his firehouse, Ladder Company 122, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and of his project to write a book on it. He was filled with enthusiasm and fascinating lore. We spent a long time together, sitting in the sun discussing books and history and writing. I enjoyed talking with him very much.
By the day the towers were struck down Dave Fontana had been transferred to Squad Company 1, also in Park Slope, and was last seen heading for the south tower with his lieutenant, they having left their truck mired in traffic to head in on foot. He died, leaving behind his wife, Marian, and five-year-old son, Aidan.
Squad Company 1 lost 12 men that day.
This morning, I chanced to see a friend talking to another on the street as I headed for the subway, and one commented that he was off work today; that he never works on September 11th anymore. Then, as we walked away my friend thought for a minute and realized that she knew of other people who quietly did the same. And it struck me that doing so may be the most appropriate way to take time to reflect upon the lessons we are still learning from that day, to honor the memories of those who died, to think about what has transpired since, and to appreciate the lives we have to enjoy and look forward to.
I think I will take September 11th off next year as a private memorial. If it were a declared one I would approve of that, too, but I don’t think I need an official proclamation to know that September 11 is a day when it would be appropriate forevermore to take a long pause and stop and reflect.
My wife Susan Kile, took this photo last night, September 10, 2013, from the Brooklyn Promenade as we did just that. She calls it "Lights that cast a shadow, as seen from Brooklyn."