a day in september

you were a teacher
you were a doctor
you were a lawyer--
a poet
a painter
a writer
in the secret part of your soul.

you walked
you danced
you slept
you ate
you lived
you laughed
you loved.

you were not a saint.

on any given day
you got up
got dressed
ate breakfast
or skipped it (if you were in a hurry)
maybe forgot to kiss your kids goodbye
and forgot to tell your family you loved them.

rush hour annoyed you
you couldn't stand the guy at work with the crusty elbows and cranky voice
you didn't understand why tipping was necessary
you didn't always pick up your trash
you snapped at your lazy secretary
you gossiped about your best friend
and you didn't like it when people forgot to say thank you.

you were ordinary.
you made mistakes.
you were human.

but on a day in september
when the leaves were beginning to paint themselves
and the air was becoming colder
you went to work
maybe you stopped to appreciate the smell of autumn
and wondered if you should call your mother
but finally decided to leave it 'til tomorrow.

and an hour into your cup of coffee
none of that mattered anymore.

as the world collapsed around you
maybe you thought of inconsequential things
like who would walk the dog
pick the kids up
make dinner
remind your parents to go to the doctor each month
so that you'd still have parents.

and as the final ashes fell
you thought of all the things you never did
and never remembered
all the missed games
all the broken promises
all the forgotten kisses
and you wished so desperately you could live to undo your mistakes.

but you couldn't.

and today, some little girl will wake up
and wonder where her mommy is
and for the third time (but surely not the last)
her father will give her a hug
and let her cry on his shoulder
and play dolls with her as a substitute mother—
even though he can't be.

and today, a little boy will put on his baseball uniform
pick up his cap and ball and glove
and call for his father—who isn't there anymore, is he?
and his mother will come instead
to run and laugh and drop balls
but as much as she tries
she cannot replace what has been lost.

tomorrow, a girl will graduate from college
and wonder why her big brother
couldn't be there
to celebrate
to laugh
to dance
and to rejoice with her.

tomorrow, a young man will get his first job
and wish that his mother could have seen
the first paycheck
the first raise
the first promotion
and the first time he came home afterwards
exhausted, hungry, but proud.

tonight, a woman will get married
and her grandfather will be there
in place of his son
and she will ask God
why her father couldn't be there
on what should have been a day of happiness
to give his daughter away.

tonight, a hundred eyes will see a hundred empty places at the table.
tonight, a thousand voices will cry a thousand tears for the three thousand lost.
tonight, a million hearts will mourn a million times for the dreams of the dead.

tonight, we feel the pain again.
tonight, we grieve for you.
tonight, we honor you.
tonight, we remember you.

and tonight, you live, as you always will
if only in our memories.