I remember the Wednesdays. It was a Tuesday when it happened, but I can only recall so much about that. People say the sky was very blue, but I don't remember looking up. I was much lower to the ground then, coming up on 10 years old, and I remember the sun gleaming on the sidewalk as the few of us who were still left in school went to soccer practice. Everyone else's parents had pulled them out. The teachers hadn't told us why, but when we arrived for soccer, one of the coaches told us that two planes flew into the World Trade Center and they fell down. We had gone to visit on a school trip not long before. I remember the long carpets that led to the elevators that blasted you up 100 floors like a spaceship. Quite a thing when you're not yet 10 years old.
No, I remember the Wednesdays, when I would go to an evening catechism class at a Catholic church called St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan, and the bagpipes would groan in their melancholy and fill the streets outside, reverberating off the tory stone buildings and tumbling through the classroom windows while we learned about the Beatitudes. It was the sound of another fireman, or another cop, or another Cantor Fitzgerald stockbroker being remembered—the glory and the beauty and the pain of their lives, trumpeted to the world before they were put in the ground. It was every Wednesday for weeks, then months. I know now that we were only witness to one day out of seven. There were a lot of funerals to hold—a lot of Irish Catholics to remember after they were found in the rubble. In my family lore, the Irish planted themselves in the police and fire departments to get a foothold in New York—my grandfather says his father was a cop—and the list of names of those lost that day had evidence of that.
And so every Wednesday evening we would learn about the deeds and teachings of Jesus, and pretend that the aching drone of heartbreak was not continually sounding outside, breaking through the windows and the blinds to disturb our study. I don't think this was the time it all came unstuck, when any hopes I would devote myself to The Church were dashed. For one thing, it seemed like there was some limit on the number of questions you were allowed to ask, and besides, we were a C+E family at best. But there was something, looking back now, about hearing these tales of the ultimate justice of the world, of God's stewardship over the fates and souls of man, interrupted by such damning evidence of how unfair it all can be, such glaring indications that no one good is in charge. It crept in the window, over and over, the hum of disharmony.
But we were asked to continue on, to live our lives, and so we kept going back to catechism every Wednesday, to learn that "blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted." And, "blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." And, "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." And, "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." And then the next 19 years happened. But before that, before we knew where it was all going, we would file out into the street and down to the avenue, where in the beginning the specter of smoke and ash would loom on the downtown horizon, drifting out over the East River until one day it was gone.
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