Sunday, September 11, 2011

What is in a name?

It was hard to listen to the names of those killed in the 9/11 attacks being read at the site of the World Trade Center this morning. The readers were people who'd lost a loved one - wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, friends. Some of the readers were stoic, some in tears. But each name was read with the solemnity and gravitas it deserved.

It was particularly moving to see the reaction to the names engraved around the fountains in the footprints of the towers. The tears, the distress was just heart-breaking. Mothers and fathers traced the letters of the names of children with their fingers. Flowers and little flags were wedged into the engravings. Many people made rubbings of their loved one's name. Each letter of each name so precious. Each name representing a life - the joy, the quirks, the laughter, the day-in/day-out responsibilities, the love - of a single person who is no longer around to hug, toil beside, share a drink, walk the extra mile.

A firefighter in uniform sat in front of me at the 11:00 service at St. John the Divine. I noticed he had a small laminated picture of someone that he held in his hands and took with him when we went up for Communion. That struck me so hard. I didn't personally know anyone who died, but this firefighter did. My prayers were for this man's loved one. After the service I asked him about it. It was a dear friend, he said, and showed me the metal bracelet he wears engraved with his friend's name. The man said he came to the Cathedral every anniversary in honor of his friend. His faithfulness and devotion were inspiring.

I cried my way through the closing hymn, O God Our Help in Ages Past, just as I cried my way through it 10 years ago when we sang it at All Saints' in Atlanta. I do believe that we must move toward the future rather than dwell on the horrors of the past. But when people say get over it and move on, I think of my own tears and emotions. I did not lose a loved one. The names being read are all strangers to me. And yet, tears. I cannot fathom the profound sadness that the families and friends bear, yes, even 10 years later.

Each name is precious. Each name being read aloud. Each name etched in stone. Each name carried on a card tucked inside the dress cap of a firefighter. Each and every name.

What is in a name? An entire life. That's what's in a name.

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