The biggest bells in Yale’s most famous tower tolled yesterday, marking the beginning and the end of one of the University’s toughest days. In between, the Yale community mourned, reflected and discussed. It promised to remember the attacks that occurred a year ago, and it vowed to move on.
We knew this day was coming. We had discussed how we would feel and debated what we should do. Still, the day didn’t quite feel real until it finally arrived.
It began early, by college standards at least, as the carillons in Harkness Tower and the Divinity School ended a moment of silence by ringing out at 8:46 a.m., exactly a year after the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
We followed those chimes with a variety of actions, each a mirror of our varying perspectives on this trying day. There was music and film, panels and lectures, exhibits and memorials. Some students shunned all that, choosing a day of intimate conversation with friends instead. Others went about their daily routine, determined not to let the anniversary faze them.
On Old Campus, a group of suitemates uncapped Sharpie markers to scrawl messages and poems on a white, wooden block. Another student strolled by, Wall Street Journal in hand, yelling into his cell phone about a class he was hoping to take.
At Battell Chapel, three distinguished scholars discussed the geopolitical impact of last year’s attacks. Donald Kagan looked to America’s future, pitching the case for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. John Gaddis examined our past, urging Americans to cling to the principles that first made us strong. And Ernesto Zedillo looked beyond our borders, arguing that international cooperation provides the only vehicle for lasting security.
By 9 p.m., the discussions had ended. Hundreds retraced their steps to Cross Campus, where they recalled the solemn ceremony of a year ago. It was windier this time, almost too blustery for candles, but the sentiment was the same: In community, there is comfort; in our shared humanity, we find hope.
And yet, yesterday’s vigil felt so different from the gathering a year ago. The pain of the attacks was overwhelming and palpable then, like the thick summer air that hung over the Women’s Table that warm night. Yesterday, the shock felt more distant, like the vibrations of a bell riding a cool evening breeze, and we were left unsure what to feel.
We don’t know what to make of Sept. 11, 2002 — the first of the countless anniversaries we will honor in our lifetime. Last October, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 assured us on the same Cross Campus lawn that we would be all right. We’re still not sure if we are.
A year later, the sadness of the attacks remains. But we know we can go on, and, perhaps, we can see a little better where we are headed.
As the crowd broke up, the bells tolled again, giving closure to the day we had long expected but never prepared for. We have no choice but to remember, reflect and move on. “Tomorrow,” another president, another Yale graduate, said last night, “is September the 12th. A milestone is passed, and a mission goes on.”