There's a gleaming new building filling the sky there now, reaching up and up with a singular brassy defiance. There's a museum and a reflecting pool and a memorial because that's what you do with days that have become history, days so momentous and awful you remember them in spite of how much you'd rather forget.
September 11 was all about emptiness: Blue sky empty of clouds, a skyline empty of two iconic towers, a city suddenly empty of two thousand-plus souls. And so the way we memorialize it is by trying to fill that emptiness, obsessively and endlessly.
That process started almost before the towers collapsed in a jackstraw heap, and went on all that numbed week. I remember, that aching day, sitting in a hardware store in Auburn listening to a man try to fill the emptiness by telling me about another catastrophe, a fire that had destroyed the store 90 or more years before. And I remember going to a football game on Friday night and again the next day, while debate raged as to whether or not it was appropriate..
That debate goes on to this day. I suppose it always will.
What I've come to believe, however, is that that week was all about making the empty go away, and if going to a football game did that for some people, then I'm not going to quibble about whether or not it dishonored the dead. All I can say is it didn't feel like dishonor.
All I can say, going to a football game down in Monroe Friday night and then to another the next day at Saint Francis, is that it felt more like catharsis, and commonality, and the stitching together of a social fabric torn asunder. That it was a football game that provided the vehicle for this was immaterial; in the end, it was about family, our American family, reaching for each other at a time when we desperately needed to do so. We all could have been at a quilting bee for all that the scoreboard at one end of the field mattered.
Could there have been a better remembrance, I think now, than to stand as one as the taped voice of Lee Ann Rimes floated out across the farm fields around Adams Central, "Amazing Grace" spinning out and out into the September twilight?
Could there have been any dishonor in what happened the next day, when Saint Francis and some team from Wisconsin played a football game that was of no consequence, except for the simple fact that by playing it we had an excuse to come together?
I saw no dishonor in that. I saw none at the tables that greeted you as you came in the gate that day, where donations for the victims were being taken. I saw none in the silver American flag stickers on the back of every Saint Francis helmet. I saw none, at the far end of the afternoon, in the sight of two young boys throwing a football around down in the south end of the field.
One kid scooted for the end zone, football tucked beneath his arm like a loaf of pumpernickel. The other kid gave chase, catching up with him in the end zone and wrestling him to the ground. And then they rolled around for awhile down there, two American boys doing what American boys do on a sunlit American afternoon.
And, for a moment, anyway, filling up the empty.