Approaching the place, I have little success in keeping the emotions from showing on my face. Looking at the faces around me, I can tell I'm not alone.
The day is very much like the one when what happened here happened: clear and blue, though the light is different because I've come earlier in the season. Others are present, many others, but nobody is acting out of turn, unlike up in Central Park, at Strawberry Fields -- which is supposed to be a quiet place but wasn't because, to tell just one thing, some guy was strumming a guitar and singing, imagine, "Band on the Run."
The only sound is that of crashing water, a huge but wholly soothing sound. I feel weightless listening to it while I look into the great holes in the ground and remember the twisted wrecks of what once stood here, the towers we now see only in photographs or in movies, where in the background they will occasionally appear, always a surprise, doomed and melancholy.
I move from one to the other, north to south, and think that in our first reckonings with it, Evil was something out there, just past where the darkness began because the firelight would only reach so far, something made up because we were afraid and needed something to be afraid of, a monster, a beast: Grendel.
I think about how we eventually discovered we didn't need to construct something to be afraid of, that we were it. But we are more. If we do terrible things to each other, we also do wonderful things for each other. We are not always Jack or Roger. Sometimes we are Ralph or Piggy. Occasionally, we are Simon.
I think all of this and then look down at the names on the parapet. It overwhelms as my swimming eyes light on this one and then that one. I think about the lives these letters represent -- 2,982 of them, the population of a town. I look away, down. I squeeze and then relax my closed eyes, finding myself silently reciting words I've called upon several times a day for most of the days of my life, from before I had any comprehension of their meaning until I did, in my way. They are 66 words of faith and hope: "Our Father ... "
I look up again and see that my hands are on the parapet near a familiar name. Michael Lynch. I never met him, but I know he was engaged to be married that November. He had nine brothers and sisters. He had wanted to be a firefighter since he was a little boy and as a grown man he had become one. His home firehouse was in the Bronx. He worked up there, Ladder 32. But on the day when what happened here happened, he was in Manhattan, downtown, working a 24-hour shift, Engine 40 nozzle, on loan, a firefighter answering the call. He was where he needed to be.
At his memorial service on May 3, 2002, his uncle Theodore McCarrick said the Mass. In the homily he offered this reminder, "All of us are asked to live for others; some of us are asked to die for others." The words are engraved on Michael Lynch's headstone, marking the place where he rests at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Valhalla, N.Y. According to the report from the medical examiner, Michael's remains were mingled with that of an unidentified woman, whom he was either carrying or shielding with his coat when they died. In David Halberstam's book about the men of Engine 40/Ladder 35 and their families, "Firehouse," Michael Lynch's fiancee, Stephanie Luccioni, says this to his father: "What people don't understand is that no one ever loved anyone like Michael and I loved each other."
But I do understand. I know exactly what she means, and I know that all of the other people represented here, who died, every one, also possessed the ability to love and to be loved as no one ever has or ever will. It is all we need. It is the greatest of these. It is the best that is within us. And so I stand here on the beautiful day and wish with all of my heart we could somehow remember this always, without having to be reminded, without having to reach for it after a storm, after a gunman enters a high school, after airplanes fly into buildings.
Commentary on 09/12/2018
Print Headline: Love is all we need