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Patriot Day

New York, September 11th, 2007

I come from an ancient culture obsessed with remembering every detail of a long and often tragic history.  So, it has a lot of holidays to commemorate catastrophes, epiphanies, and even a triumph or two.  The year is filled with obligations to remember events, lost in the mists of time, with prescribed rituals, prayers for prophets and martyrs, and special foods --or no food at all.  There are days when you have to be happy, and days of somber self-contemplation on the meaning of it all.  So it goes year after year, marking time.

I'm also a first generation American, steeped in the history and holidays of the relatively young nation to which my parents fled as refugees.  I'm a veteran; so there's another set of holidays to take seriously and keep track of.  And I'm a New Yorker, a citizen of the City whose horror was seen and heard around the world as it happened.  Here in New York City there is an immediacy and intimacy to the day etched in everyone's mind.  There were so many martyrs.  Everyone here knows someone who was in some way directly afflicted that day.  For most ordinary folks here, 911 is a day for quiet reflection, far from the hero hype and pontificating politicians.

There were real heroes here that day, so many, straight and gay, black and white, speaking every language under the sun in a city that is and has always been a melting pot of peoples from somewhere else since the first days dawned on New Amsterdam.  On that day it didn't matter who you were or what you were into; everyone either helped someone else or needed someone's help.  Seeing the soot covered masses marching across the bridges to Brooklyn, the Hasidic communities there set up tables on the street and gave them water.  People did whatever they could, what they knew how to do, without having planed to be honored in any way.  Some ran into the burning buildings to rescue whomever they could, to say prayers for the dying, and they were crushed to dust.  Some served water to strangers; some said prayers both sacred and profane. 

There is an unknown New Yorker, standing somewhere near an open news media microphone when the buildings began to fall, whose words were broadcast live around the world, "Holy Shit!"  It was when I heard those words, as I sat horrified in front of a television on the other side of the planet, that I knew that what I was seeing was real.  It was that expression, in my own profane pure New York dialect, that connected me intimately with what has happening at home, as I sat in far away Australia on vacation.  Thank you.  In his own way, he did his part, unintentionally.  Suddenly, I was no longer a gay Yank on an Aussie holiday.  I was an American whose heart had been pierced by an enemy.  Is that what makes one a patriot?

So, now the day has a name for better or worse, Patriot Day.  After nightfall, from the farthest outer reaches of the City, one can see the twin blue beams of light from near Ground Zero burning into space.  And words cease as we look on in silence.

-Denny Meyer

  2007  Gay Military Signal