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September 11

It was a beautiful August morning.  The temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees.  I was riding along Asharoken Avenue towards Eatons Neck.  My legs felt strong and I was setting a fast pace, despite the gusting head wind.  The dune grass blew in the breeze.  The waves on the Sound lapped at the expanse of sand.  I was riding on my favorite flat, a road that extends for miles along the shoreline.  I looked up and saw a blue sky, absent of clouds.  It was a perfect morning.  I could focus on my riding.  I could contemplate the beauty of this moment.

It was almost as if it was an early fall morning.  The blue sky was nearly as deep and blue as that of a September day.  And then it happened.  The perfect blue sky reminded me not of the grandeur of God’s creation but instead of a morning nearly ten years earlier, the morning of September 11.  The perfect moment was stolen.  Memories of that terror stricken day filled my thoughts.  I was taken back to another day, one that began with blue skies and the grandeur of God’s tapestry, but ended in darkness and clouds of smoke and ash.

Ten years ago, on what began as a perfect fall morning, I was driving to my office.  I looked to the sky and thought to myself, what an extraordinary day.  There were no clouds, only the deep blue sky of an early fall day.  I silently offered praise to God for this beautiful creation.  And then I turned on the radio to hear reports of the first plane striking the North Tower.  Soon I would be driving East on the LIE after collecting my children from school, looking at the empty West bound lanes, save the occasional emergency vehicle careening towards the city, as signs flashed “New York City Closed.”

I lost no family member or friend on that day, not even a member of the synagogue I still proudly serve; yet I remain wounded.  Ten years later time moves forward.  Eight year olds become eighteen year olds heading to their first semester in college.  And time moves backward.  Even the sky stands as a silent reminder of that day.  Ten years later moments are too often stolen.  Terror still finds its way into my soul.  A perfect blue sky and a favorite morning bike ride turns into the drive back to our house ten years earlier and my feeble attempts to explain to my then eight year old and five year old what happened to our city.  As I drove my children home I knew that the world they were born into had been forever changed.  Ten years later I still did not know how.

Every sky would be tinged with that day, every moment would be tempered.  Judaism counsels that even at the happiest of occasions, a wedding, we break a glass before adjourning for hours of dancing and celebration.  It is taught that we do this in remembrance of the ancient tragedy of the Temple’s destruction.  In the midst of great happiness we pause, if only briefly, to remember the tragedy that changed our people forever.  With that cataclysmic act we were transformed from a people whose lives revolved around one Temple to a people spread out and oriented towards many temples.  Thousands of years later we know what that destruction fashioned.  It helped to create a people devoted to prayer rather than sacrifices, Torah study rather than pilgrimages, ordinary acts of lovingkindness rather than priestly rites.  Thousands of years later the memory of that searing day is distant, but its import is clear.

Ten years later the memory of September 11 is clear, but its meaning is still unimaginable.  Ten years later we do not know yet if we should, or even can, break a glass.  We have not yet figured out what this day might mean.  But we have come to understand the following.  The best of moments are still unexpectedly stolen and transformed into moments of sadness and pain.  Ten years later even blue skies can become darkened by memories.

Nonetheless on my return, still riding on Asharoken Avenue, the wind was now at my back and the joy of riding into the future found its way back into my heart.