On the Monday after the death of Bin Laden was announced, I was at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City immediately east of the 911 carnage. So odd—the old, old church (c.1764), where George Washington worshipped, survived without a scratch, not even to its graveyard where many of the city’s most prestigious historical characters are buried. (Though the organ did suffer some smoke damage.) The 911 site today is a construction site. On that particular Monday, the celebrations seemed to be ended, except for two men with crudely lettered signs praising the death of Bin Laden loudly and angrily as if there were someone among the milling tourists and lunchtime office workers arguing with them.
We’d made the date for the concert some time before Bin Laden’s death: it was one of three months of Bach cantatas and poetry on Mondays at 1:00. The violist was a niece and the date was purely fortuitous. The Bach cantata performed inside the chapel was a much more moving commemoration than that of the angry men outside. Not a celebration so much as a somber taking note, an honoring of the human beings who had been hurt by the man, a hope for a new beginning which is what we all hope for at times like these. “Grant us peace graciously, Lord God, in our time….” The young musicians and singers playing it seemed clear-eyed, like Bach’s music. They made it possible to believe in a world where “we might lead a quiet and peaceful life in all blessedness and honor.”
Two days later I heard a story that I won’t be able to repeat verbatim, but perhaps my mangled version of it will help to convey a point. My host was at a church event in Finland near the Arctic Sea where a Russian and an American discovered over dinner conversation that both had been on military submarines in the area. Then, the American had been hunting the Russian sub (or vice versa?) Now, here they were together in another time and place. The two men stood and saluted one another.
Aren’t we curious creatures? We wait for those moments of peace; we find them when we least expect them. My trip to New York from Vermont and back was by train. So wonderful to see the world in its back yards. Plastic toys in primary colors were encamped here and there. Those ubiquitous white plastic chairs and tables were set out for all the barbeques to come. In the woods, spring flowers bloomed. Warehouses and the flat, brown backs of shopping centers were groped by new weeds.
We came to a small village, pulling into a station where there seemed to be no one, and pulling out again. From a window a child who looked like he might have been Downs syndrome, and a woman (his mother?) waved eagerly at the train, the boy excited, the mother delighted. The train whistled its long, melancholy sound and most of the people on it and many the quarter-mile ahead and behind, remembered other train whistles and other times, fondly, gently. A shared moment like a Bach chorale or an unexpected salute.