The Silver Bell

Posted September 11th, 2011

I had not thought I would watch the remembrances. I remember the horror too well to think that reliving it over and over again will do anything to blur the vision, to dull the ache.

Yet I did.

I sat on the couch with newspapers and coffee, watching as the clock ticked toward the instant exactly ten years past when everything began. Pipers moved into place, the tattered flag from Ground Zero was unfolded with precision, and the Brooklyn Youth Choir sang the national anthem with measured tempo and spiritual intensity.

The silver bell rang once at 8:46.

The reading of names began. These children and parents, spouses and siblings of the dead were wrung with grief and worn with sorrow and most, it seemed, had established a working truce, a sort of modus vivendi with the pain that beats as incessantly as the heart.

The silver bell rang twice at 9:03.

The words said by Mayor Bloomberg and former Mayor Giuliani, President Obama and former President Bush, Governor Cuomo, former Governor Pataki and Governor Christie were carefully chosen and gently spoken. These men looked into the eyes of the bereaved and addressed and allowed the rest of us to listen.

The silver bell rang thrice at 9:37.

If I had been outside and listening then, would I have heard the roar of jet engines so close to the ground, heard the destruction or felt its fire surge over me? In the plane were three eleven-year-olds, sixth graders on a joyous adventure with their teacher. A three-year-old and an eight-year-old died with their father. A flight attendant was pregnant with her first child.

The silver bell rang four times at 9:59.

CBS kept a still camera on the readers as they performed that litany. As names were spoken they were written at the bottom of the screen next to a photograph that put a face to the name, and just to the left of that picture was a dream-blue icon that showed the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, or the rural landscape in Shanksville, a picture that put a face to each death.

This silver bell rang five times at 10:03.

There is a scar in the earth in Shanksville, the aftermath of cataclysm like the shell holes at the Western Front in France or the rubble preserved in Hiroshima, that attest to the human capacity for ineffable evil. There is emptiness preserved in New York City, twin squares with water that cascades into darkness.

The silver bell rang six times at 10:28.

The World Trade Center was then no more and other buildings would also fall.

One after another, fathers, mothers, children and friends were buried. So many more were entombed where they died, leaving no trace, no body, no relic to be tenderly returned to the earth of anyone’s choosing.

Then our soldiers went to war in Afghanistan against the legions of Osama bin Laden that attacked us and then in Iraq to bring down the despot Saddam Hussein whom some believed on scant evidence intended to do likewise. They are still there.

It has been ten years of births, graduations, marriages, and deaths. It has been a decade of memorials and observances. Elective offices have changed hands, some more than once. A few fortunes have been made; too many nest eggs are shattered.

The silver bell rang for innocents and heroes, the notable and the anonymous, all of them gone. James Taylor sang “Close your Eyes” and Paul Simon played “Sounds of Silence.” I wept for what I saw and heard, for what I fear I may see and the sounds to which I dare not listen.

I would not forget even if I could.

Will memory, however, be fertile seed or dragon’s teeth?

2 Responses to “The Silver Bell”

  • David commented on September 12th, 2011 at 10:01 pm:

    Conflicted I tell you, I am conflicted. I’m not sure if Jason growing spartoi or Upton Sinclair’s book better fit the bill of your last words.

  • Ellen commented on September 13th, 2011 at 11:52 am:

    I was thinking more about Ovid than Upton Sinclair, you erudite reader, you, but US may even be more to the point.

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