Grief has always been our most well-policed emotion. Mourning is painful, so we make it the stuff of pageantry --of muffled drums and riderless horses and black-draped catafalques. To suffer collectively is, if nothing else, to suffer prettily.
What's harder to know is, When is enough enough? A lot of Americans are quietly, and guiltily, asking themselves that question this week, as Sept. 11--the sixth Sept. 11 since 2001--once again approaches. A sixth anniversary is an awkward thing, without the raw feeling of a first or the numerical tidiness of a fifth or 10th. The families of the 2,973 people murdered that day need no calendrical gimmick to feel their loss, but a nation of 300 million--rightly or wrongly--is another matter.
Some have suggested that we discontinue the moments of silence and solemn speeches and all the other ceremonies that have marked our recent Sept. 11s. While many argue that that would leave the day bereft of meaning, it's possible that there are deeper kinds of meaning to be had. On Sept. 5, German authorities announced the arrest of a group planning a series of terrorist attacks described as "massive" and "imminent." The day before, Denmark pulled off a similar coup, raiding 11 locations in Copenhagen and arresting eight people who had been storing "unstable explosives" in preparation for their own terrorist strike. Both groups are said to have links to al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, at ground zero in New York City, the steel and concrete of the building that will replace the lost towers have at last risen to street level--not much compared with what was once there but plenty compared with the smoking hole the site had been. And in a briefly scary preamble to the week--one in which no one was hurt--New Yorkers jumped and then rolled their eyes as a criminal fool set off an ineptly built pipe bomb on a quiet street downtown. The locals, who now know a thing or two about what real danger is, made a few jokes and then went about their day.
There are many ways to remember the dead. It's hard to argue that learning how to defeat real evil, slap aside pretenders and rebuild in the face of abiding sorrow aren't three very good ones.