N.Y. Journal: The passing of the peace

Faith & Inspiration

To me, the more telling question is whether you remember where you were the years afterward.

The first year I lived in New York, I forgot. I had been here 12 days and I worked in my apartment like any other day without a thought. Then I went to the gym, where 20 TVs helpfully reminded me. You don't expect to forget in New York; you expect people to walk around looking stricken. I took the elevator down from the gym and said something about what day it was to the not-stricken older gentleman riding the elevator down with me, and he unexpectedly told me that he was supposed to be on one of the planes that crashed. He still has the boarding pass for the flight he never took.

My roommates and I decided it would be appropriate to go to Ground Zero to remember. I don't remember the remembering but I remember I dropped my roommate Lindsey's keys down the elevator shaft before the doors closed in front of us, and we never got them back. The next day I remember seeing bouquets of flower wilting on sidewalks, and I remember thinking how strange it was that I forgot.

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I have no memory of what I did the next year. I lived in Brooklyn and probably couldn't be bothered to get out of my pajamas and go in to the city.

This year might have been memorable if only for being a day where the wind pounded the rain right into you. I decided to take the Eucharist at Trinity Church, a church so close to the towers that the force uprooted the church's ancient sycamore tree as it shielded the chapel from debris.

The rector preached to a somber crowd---one of those fuzzy sermons that leave you cold. It wasn't until he spoke of how the disciples served the world that killed their "friend" that I tried to remember if he ever said "Jesus" out loud.

But there was a point in the service where the celebrant said, "The peace of the Lord be always with you," and we replied, "And also with you," and then turned to each other and shook hands with strangers who were there for reasons we'll never know, and said, "Peace be with you."

This is a familiar ritual to me. I do this every Sunday in my own church, where some of us have been known to complain that the elders have extended the passing of the peace so long that we're able to go next door and get coffee and come back before it's all over. (Some of us have been known to actually do this.)

I've always understood that ritual to mean that God has given his peace to us and that we are now spreading that peace to each other. Doing that ritual on a day remembering the greatest pain, in a place where the rector's clearest picture of redemption seemed to be that we should "overwhelm the world" with "little bits of good," made the ritual more clear: God giving his peace to us and us spreading his peace to the people within our reach is the only way peace makes sense or is possible.

So it ended up being the plodding, every-Sunday ritual that restored the day, and the day that restored the ritual in a way I hope I'll remember not just next year when I try to recall where I was on September 11, 2009, but every Sunday in between.


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