It’s one of those sparkling September days. The sky soars, saturated with rare blue. The glinting particles in the atmosphere catch light and shimmer – you might imagine you’re by the Mediterranean. A specific event in history might have upended that, though, making you remember that ecstatic morning, that mile high sky, one of the “best days of the year” before airplanes hit the World Trade Center.
That horrible day can’t own these luminous days. They keep on coming, yesterday and today from somewhere beyond, making addicts of the “now” trouble over ideas of significance underneath and beyond single events. We get the significance in bursts. In the age of terror, bursts of joy are served up on our platter.
It would be gauche to ask for sustained happiness – almost stupid, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. How arrogant to think we could get away without pain! Endless happiness has the taint of things we shouldn’t have, of secrets we shouldn’t know the language of the gods and birds.
While happiness is a condition Americans still believe is their birthright, joy is a different thing. Joy doesn’t blot out awareness. Instead of smothering other realities the way happiness might, joy exists side by side with fear, anguish, mourning, as Jonathan Sacks, the British rabbi, recently wrote. As it bursts through the consciousness, it illuminates fragility. The awareness of terror sharpens love of these days – just as impending winter age and death made the popular “September Song” always potently bittersweet. We are seasoned now with the shadow of towers and terror. Attention is what is required, and in that, in attention itself lies beauty. The point is not that everything be happy or beautiful. As the Torah so often commands: “See!”