Moving on from 9/11

September 14, 2011

This year's day of remembrance for 9/11 seemed to signal a shift in mood, an attitude of moving on.

At Ground Zero, somber politicians, tearful survivors, and solemn firefighters and police officers gathered with thousands of onlookers to honor the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Crowds were smaller than some had expected, but clearly feeling passionate.

A few blocks away, outside the security zone, young adults for whom Manhattan is about exciting jobs, not 10-year-old events, enjoyed Sunday brunch at outdoor tables.

In Queens, 23,000 spectators gathered to watch American tennis star Serena Williams lose her composure and behave like a thug. Nearby, the Mets offered a solemn ceremony honoring first-responders, then lost again in a season that few will remember. Across the river, at the New Jersey stadium they call home, the Jets scored a comeback victory.

Mostly, people went about their lives: entertaining, shopping, savoring late-summer rays in city parks, feeling sad, feeling happy, waiting for Monday's return to work. Even though newspapers and blogs were filled with 10-year retrospectives, three prominent networks sat it out.

Areas once covered by ash from the burning and collapsing towers have been rebuilt and are hot destinations for young professionals. Streets that were scenes of chaos and destruction are filled with new restaurants, high-end retailers and a seemingly endless parade of glass apartment buildings whose prices defy the law of real estate gravity.

I suspect this will be the last official observance. Most people, it seems, have moved on. And perhaps that's not a bad thing.

The original 9/11 stirred a sense of gratitude and respect for emergency responders, and those feelings continue. Streets filled with the armed and uniformed don't stir dread or loathing.

Living with a target on one's back hasn't made people hide their faces. Sure, it has introduced an additional element of resignation to the inevitable, but there's been no intention to stop "sucking all the marrow out of life," as Thoreau put it.

Politicians' efforts to spin 9/11 to their benefit ran out of steam years ago. Partisan misdirection might still be playing well in Tea Party enclaves, but not here -- and not for long in those enclaves.

All of this leaves me imagining 9/11 as a steadily eroding sandbar, which once supported a welter of emotions and contemplation, but has almost faded away, as the stream of life moves on.

That moving on can be frustrating for those who were heavily invested in the sandbar. Some feel betrayed and left behind. With their lost kin still vibrant memories, they wonder how others can return to normalcy.

It's frustrating for those who wish we could have learned an epic lesson from 9/11 and not just squandered lives, resources and political probity to wars of only vague relevance.

And it is frustrating for those who saw churches fill immediately after 9/11 and allowed themselves to imagine a spiritual reawakening, only to discover that revitalizing the moribund isn't that easy.

Sandbars don't survive; they aren't meant to survive. Life always moves on. And God isn't behind us trying to build erosion barriers or to keep our old imaginings alive. God is ahead of us, beckoning us onward.

-- Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

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