Balm in Canada
I was in New York that day, watching the Towers from my Brooklyn apartment. I could go on, but I’d rather say something about what happened a few days later.
9/11/2001 was a Tuesday, and by the week’s end I was in Montreal, having traveled there by train. The hotel was close by McGill University, and my room overlooked its football stadium. An Alouettes’ game was about to kickoff, and I was startled when the announcer asked the crowd to join in singing “God Bless America.” It was a big crowd, and not only did they sing, they stood to do so. Every verse.
Tears well up as I write this now; in the hotel that day, I wept.
People tend to underestimate what even small gestures can mean to the grieving. But this wasn’t small, nor merely a gesture. Nearly two decades hence, I still can’t express how precious it was, and is, to me.
It went like that for the week I was there. Virtually every time someone asked where I was from, no sooner were the words “New York City” out of my mouth than the convention of such occasions instantly fell away. Invariably, the person would look into my eyes and, with palpable sincerity, offer a version of “I am so sorry.” Often a hand would reach out in an instinctive contact of compassion.
In those moments, with words unable to pass the knot in my throat, I could do little more than nod with gratitude.
All too quickly, we “recovered” from the grief that, like a balm, softened and soothed our common coarseness, and today we’re more fractious and inflamed than on 9/11 Eve.
“Proud to be an American” has long-seemed a poor way to put what is true for me – and hopefully most: I am grateful to be an American, and one born and raised in New York City to boot.These days I live in Canada – another fact I report not with pride, but thanksgiving.
More than a few Canadians of my acquaintance like talking smack about their Southern Cousin. I prefer to view it as a kind of sport. And yet, I fear that, over time, it could become a habit. And a habit, once ingrained, can be hard to break. Can, in fact, become a hardness in itself.
On this anniversary, I mourn an obscenity that’s proved an ominous turning point. I remember also a candle – burning bright on the altar of my heart – and the Canadians whose kindness lit it.
Tim Kelleher, former New Media Editor for First Things, wrote and directed that journal's first film, "The Creed: What Christians Profess, and Why It Ought to Matter"