Ashokan Farewell

New York, 1976 - John Lennon wins his deportation battle against the Nixon Administration. When asked if he harbors a grudge against the president, in true Lennon fashion, he quips, “Time wounds all heels.”

New Jersey, 2011 – Ten years after the September 11 attacks, Lennon’s play on words, altered a bit further, has been running through my mind all week.  Time wounds all heals.  It’s been ten years.  Ten years, though this feels like the most intense “anniversary” since 2002.  What healing we’ve done always seems to relapse this time of year.  The images return to our TVs, the stories fill the pages of our newspapers and magazines.  This year they arrived even earlier than usual.  They are impossibly hard to watch and read, yet to deny their appearances would seem treacherous.  Time has healed many of our wounds, yet the reality of the ten years gone seems to have reopened some of the deepest ones. 

I spent the last four September 11ths a transplanted New Jersey college student, 900+ miles away from New York in the southern city of Nashville, Tennessee.  Here, the day took on a markedly different tone. So far away from the epicenter of the attacks, there are few stories of personal losses to ground remembrance in anything greater than an increasingly distant national tragedy.  It wasn’t until my final year of school, in September of 2010, that I found a memorial service to attend at the Nashville Public Library.

Some people remember important moments in their life by what grade they were in, where they were living at the time, how old their children were when such-and-such happened, etc. My sister’s memories are connected to what she was eating that day. Mine are connected to music.  I remember hearing “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by the Beatles on a night out to dinner with my grandparents when I became terribly sick.  “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” by Tom Waits was playing on the stereo one Christmas while we decorated the tree.  We listened to a cassette by Alvin and the Chipmunks on our way down to Ocean City, Maryland one summer.  And “Ashokan Farewell,” written by Jay Ungar, which was performed at that Nashville ceremony I attended last year, will forever and for always come to mind in early September.

The violin player began, playing the entire melody of the song through before being joined by the guitarist.  The sound of the two instruments reverberated off the marble walls of the library lobby and echoed in the high ceilings.  My roommate, who graciously attended the service with me, held my hand.  It was one of the most moving moments of my life.

Here is a version of the song, performed by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra with Paul Gambill.  I hope you find it as poignant as I did.

For Cousin Tommy, who will never be forgotten.

For information on the Thomas P. Knox Memorial Foundation, please visit this website:

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Posted on September 10, 2011 .