Yesterday, I was talking to some sixth graders when one of them mentioned that tomorrow was 9/11. As they nodded thoughtfully, I had a moment of realizing that they were not born yet in 2001. A brief moment of understanding how long it’s been since that day when the world changed.
I’ve written before about my memory of that day. But it’s only now, 13 years later, that I really realize the extent to which that moment shaped not only a skyline and the world, but also my own life. And certainly my rabbinate.
3 months, 3 weeks, and 1 day before 9/11 was my ordination. I’ve never known a High Holy Days as a rabbi that didn’t exist in that reality. The High Holy Day preparation that year certainly looked different than any other I’ve experienced since, but reflecting back on that year has since been a part of that preparation. When I read the words of Unetaneh Tokef “Who shall live and who shall die,” I will always be reminded of reading them in 2001. My brain will always flash to remembering my internal, silent addition of “who by jumping and who by burning.” But what struck me as I spoke to those 6th graders, is understanding that enough time has passed now that the new normal has begun to feel, well, normal. Except for those moments when I’m reminded that it wasn’t always like that.
I recently watched Ghosbusters during its rerelease. Seeing pre-2001 images of New York City is always difficult. But there’s a scene in the movie in which you see rescue workers running towards a building explosion in lower Manhattan, as civilians run the other way. It was painful to watch. To remember that there used to be a different reality.
But then, at other times, I remember that there is rebuilding. And a never ending scope of new realities–some of which are painful, but some of them are full of hope.