I woke up shortly before 9am yesterday morning, and could hear the reading of the names on TV from downstairs. About two hours later I could still hear it. Yesterday was a difficult day for all of us, and it’s deeply important that we never forget the hallowed souls we lost 17 years ago, or the incredible acts of heroism undertaken by countless New Yorkers on that day and every day after. I’ve been thinking about what it means to never forget though, as the images of 9/11 flashed across my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline right alongside such banalities as what friends ate for breakfast, dogs making silly faces (I have a special affection for animals and mostly follow dog accounts to keep my morale high), and who among the people I know recently got married.
One image that sticks out to me however is the photo of Mark Messier holding an FDNY helmet over his heart on the Garden ice, because it touches directly on the links between collective mourning, collective healing, and sports.
I speak only for myself here, and I want to be clear that I was just a child in September of 2001, having recently started 4th grade. I’m from northern New Jersey, but outside the city; I didn’t lose anyone close to me, but my mother worked in Lower Manhattan at the time. I don’t really know how or why this is all relevant, how different kinds of pain measure up to one another, or if that even matters. I guess I just wanted to make sure you all know that I don’t quite know your loss, but that in some admittedly small way it happened to me too, and that I can still remember on some level how horrible a day it was.
It’s a strange thing to bring up hockey in relation to the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history, because it seems like such a small, petty thing compared to the unfathomable depths of loss experienced by so many almost two decades ago. Still, I think it can’t be discounted.
When we speak of remembrance, we obviously mean those we lost. I intend in no way to diminish that. But what I think we sometimes forget to express as time goes on is the way we came together in the aftermath of such tragedy and the ways in which we continue to come together, year after year, despite everything that happened.
Hockey means a lot to us, I know, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here reading and writing about the Rangers, cheering wildly at MSG for every goal, or camping out on the couch with loved ones every other day for months in a silly act of devotion to people mostly from other places playing a game where they whack a small rubber disk with carbon fiber sticks as they glide around on knives. In short, it’s important. And it’s important not only in the easy days of playoff runs and home openers, but in the most difficult times of our lives as well. It was certainly important in the days following 9/11.
One of the things terrorism does to us is envelope us in deep feelings of isolation. It feels so cold and so desolate to experience fear, because it’s unique to each person in the way it hurts. One of the things sports does though is make us feel less alone. We maybe don’t place this in the foreground all the time, but sports give us structure and meaning in our lives, and when tragedy strikes we’re there for each other.
I remember distinctly after one of the regulars in our section, a warm and gregarious character whose love for the game was endless (I once heard him proclaim in his heavy, classic New York accent “I pretty much just watch hockey these days – it’s great!”), passed away, how his jersey was hung over his seat, how everyone who knew him even tangentially gave his family their sincerest condolences, and how the game took a backseat to the community that had been built up there. I was too young to really understand any of this in 2001, but I’m confident that sense of community was there too.
Because senseless violence is exactly that, and life becomes increasingly difficult and confusing when it punctures our otherwise peaceful existence. It’s like the sharpest of knives, causing deep wounds and scars that stay with us forever. In the face of such violence however, we have community. We welcome all of us who feel not exactly the same pain, but their own pain, to link arms, reminding us that we will never experience such hurt by ourselves.
Perhaps the most valiant thing we can do is continue to build that community, day in and day out, and remember that the world still can be filled with joy and purpose, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, no matter what it involves. In doing so we reaffirm what’s right and stand against what violence seeks to impose upon us: we commit ourselves over and over to the idea that people are inherently good, and that it is well worth our time to grow something, anything, as one. Everything we build on this premise takes wind out of terror’s sails, and brings us closer to the kind and just world that can so often feel like an illusion. We can make it real though by coming together.
The infinitely frustrating part is that this can’t bring back those we’ve lost. Grief will always be there, on this day, and every day we are without those we loved, and continue to love. It is the deepest, unending tragedy that this is so. We can never forget these feelings, but in the same heartbeat we must never forget what we can build in recovery. Speaking again only for myself, I wanted to thank you all, your family and friends as well, for helping to build meaning. Every ounce of community reminds us that we are together, and that we are more than violence.
As a brief postscript, I’d like to share a song that’s helped me on a personal level come to terms with what happened on September 11th, 2001. It’s from one of my favorite musician’s album called Faith in the Future, and it’s about his experience of confusion and doubt on 9/11, but also how he healed. The last line will always stick with me, and I hope it sticks with you as well: “there must be something you believe.”
Thank you all for reading, today and every day. I hope you’re all doing as well as you can. Never forget."Never Forget",