In Memoriam

Today’s post isn’t about medicine, or infections, or antibiotics; rather, it’s about children.

11 years ago today, a horrific act of terror robbed the world of almost 3,000 people. Those women and men were mothers and fathers to children who will never again see the face of one of their parents. That is a truly grievous thing; and yet, time not only heals all wounds but it also clouds the memory, especially in the very young. A little girl may have already forgotten what her father’s voice sounded like; a little boy can’t quite recall his mother’s eye color. And so they are able to move on.

But while not all of those who died on 9/11 were parents, they were all somebody’s child. And for the victims’ parents, old or young, those who lost a child on 9/11, their minds are not so easily redirected. They will remember far, far longer and far more acutely the details of their grown (or even not so grown) children who died that day. As a parent, to think of it is more than one can bear. To experience it must be another thing entirely. That is why I was so struck by Joe Biden’s speech.

As covered very nicely by David Kurtz in a piece on talkingpointsmemo.com, Joe Biden suffered the agonizing loss of his wife and daughter as a 30-year-old man, younger than I am. And yet despite every probable and possible urge to just stop and give up, he kept right on going with life. So when he spoke today to the families of the victims of United Flight 93, he spoke not just as a Vice President offering words of mourning, he spoke as a fellow survivor. He spoke as someone who knows exactly what his audience is going through and has himself lived exactly what he is talking about. Nobody should have to mourn the death of a child, but if they do, I think Joe Biden’s words would be awfully helpful. As he says in the speech, “My personal prayer for all of you is that in every succeeding year, you’re able to sing more than you weep.”

Let’s all go learns some songs.

Now the speech:

[I]t’s an honor — it’s a genuine honor to be back here today. But like all of the families, we wish we weren’t here. We wish we didn’t have to be here. We wish we didn’t have to commemorate any of this. And it’s a bittersweet moment for the entire nation, for all of the country, but particularly for those family members gathered here today.

Last year, the nation and all of your family members that are here commemorated the 10th anniversary of the heroic acts that gave definition to what has made America such a truly exceptional place — the individual acts of heroism of ordinary people in moments that could not have been contemplated, but yet were initiated.

I also know from my own experience that today is just as momentous a day for all of you, just as momentous a day in your life, for each of your families, as every September 11th has been, regardless of the anniversary. For no matter how many anniversaries you experience, for at least an instant, the terror of that moment returns; the lingering echo of that phone call; that sense of total disbelief that envelops you, where you feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest.

My hope for you all is that as every year passes, the depth of your pain recedes and you find comfort, as I have, genuine comfort in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch. And I hope you’re as certain as I am that she can see what a wonderful man her son has turned out to be, grown up to be; that he knows everything that your daughter has achieved, and that he can hear, and she can hear how her mom still talks about her, the day he scored the winning touchdown, how bright and beautiful she was on that graduation day, and know that he knows what a beautiful child the daughter he never got to see has turned out to be, and how much she reminds you of him. For I know you see your wife every time you see her smile on your child’s face. You remember your daughter every time you hear laughter coming from her brother’s lips. And you remember your husband every time your son just touches your hand.

I also hope — I also hope it continues to give you some solace knowing that this nation, all these people gathered here today, who are not family members, all your neighbors, that they’ve not forgotten. They’ve not forgotten the heroism of your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. And that what they did for this country is still etched in the minds of not only you, but millions of Americans, forever. That’s why it’s so important that this memorial be preserved and go on for our children and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, and our great-great-grandchildren — because it is what makes it so exceptional. And I think they all appreciate, as I do, more than they can tell you, the incredible bravery your family members showed on that day.

I said last year my mom used to have an expression. She’d say, Joey, bravery resides in every heart, and someday it will be summoned. It’s remarkable — remarkable — how it was not only summoned, but acted on.

Today we stand on this hallowed ground, a place made sacred by the heroism and sacrifice of the passengers and the crew of Flight 93. And it’s as if the flowers, as I walked here, as if the flowers were giving testament to how sacred this ground is.

My guess — and obviously it’s only a guess; no two losses are the same. But my guess is you’re living this moment that Yeats only wrote about, when he wrote, pray I will and sing I must, but yet I weep. Pray I will, sing I must, but yet I weep.

My personal prayer for all of you is that in every succeeding year, you’re able to sing more than you weep.