It was the 4th of July, 1969, and I should have been helping Mom get ready for the family celebration we would have later that day. Instead I was in my room, kneeling by the side of my bed, the June 27 issue of Life Magazine open before me. Staring at me from its pages were the photos of 242 American military men who had lost their lives in just one week, casualties of the Vietnam War.
Tears streamed down my face as, one by one, I read the names and hometowns of the fallen, and studied their pictures. I mourned the lost that I had never known, and cried for their families.
How do you cope with tragedy of mammoth proportion? You give it a face, a name, an address. You choose a person, a few people, and grieve their passing, and you allow them to represent the multitude of stories you do not know.
Isn't that what we all did on September 11, 2001? In the midst of something so horrendous, we listened to the stories of courage, of survival, of loss, and sought healing for ourselves as well as for them.
As we move farther from that terrible day, we are prone to forget the stories, to focus on the "bigger picture" and not on the individuals. We distance ourselves from the pain of that days. We say we won't forget, but we do.
If you are willing to remember, to risk being torn open again a bit, I invite you to go to the September 11 page on StoryCorps's website. There you will find thirty short audio clips (most under two minutes) about loved ones lost at the towers, relief workers sharing their experience, and survivors telling their stories.
Or find a copy of The Guys, a movie starring Sigourney Weaver as a writer who helps a NYFD captain write the eulogies of his fallen comrades. In the depth of his fresh wounds, healing begins as he tells the stories of those he has lost. It's one of my favorite movies, and I've written about it here.
God, who saw the whole thing, will walk with us through the grief. As Rev. Wintley Phipps prayed during those first awful days, "Help us to remember that in our sorrow we do not weep alone. You weep with us."