In the Village, we bought a bouquet of lilies and zinnias for my old friend, Sister Eileen. They echoed the flowers blooming in my garden on that summer day one year ago. A gust of wind threatened to snatch the huge bouquet from my hands as it pushed us toward Washington Square.
At Eileen’s house, the wind blew through the open window, catching papers in the empty corridor, swirling them in spiral eddies around the floor. We wondered whose spirit was in the wild air. The dead at Ground Zero – I’d heard it said often enough that day. Don’t be so sure it isn’t, said my cousin later.
Eileen was late for our visit. When she arrived, she seemed somewhat disoriented, frail and tired. We wondered if she were becoming forgetful, if our arrival had slipped her mind. If this were so, she didn’t let on. Having taken a leisurely walk home across Washington Square, she was pondering the memorial mass she’d attended at NYU. The beauty of the liturgy had touched her. Sem-pi-ter-nam — she drew out the Latin word in the prayer for the dead, savoring its promise of eternity. She was not alone in her reflections. On that first anniversary, every church in New York City had opened its doors in welcome. Museums offered free admission; musicians filled concert halls and played in the parks. In the face of indignity, the city offered beauty. Eileen welcomed the flowers.
My oldest friend was seventy-seven years old. She would have three more years to live, and we would have three more years of her friendship. Like my brother and my parents and the lost souls of September 11th, she has left us. I could not have imagined her loss or my brother’s as I gardened on that sorrowful day the year before. Trying to grasp the deaths of thousands in my native city, I’d been too stunned to think about buds opening, flowers fading, the truth that nothing holds fast.