A New Kind Of Coffin
I wrote what is to follow a month ago, merely a comment to a post on another blog
. It was in regards to an AP news story
asking what we -- as Americans -- should do with the remains workers at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania crash sites had collected of the terrorists.
For reasons I no longer recall, I first wrote these words off-line, and saved them.
This morning I came across the text file holding them, having forgotten I wrote them, and they caught me off-guard.
I sometimes read my writing aloud, being of a mind that a composition works best if it's also effective when spoken. So I began to speak them to myself, silently as not to bother others in the house, slow and deliberate.
And they stuck in my throat. I couldn't finish them. It was hard to say why at first.
Then I realized these words are a memorial, my own small, personal attempt to honor our dead. They are not the best of words, but they are mine, and for me they provide the most appropriate entry for September 12. In all honesty, they are the only thing I can post today, so I hope you won't mind.
To me it's simple:
Return them to their compatriots in terror; but first, wrap them in American flags. Design the flags out of a material that will not rip or burn easily. Let's make the flags as indestructible as we can. As indestructible as we are.
On those flags secure the names of every human killed by their act. Next to each place a picture of who it belonged to, and then one of each wife, each husband, each son and daughter, each mother and father, each brother and sister connected to that name. On the back of their pictures write their words of loss, of grief and anger; but also their words of determination, of strength and resoluteness. Write these words in the language of our enemy.
Then finally, on each body, place a note. And have that note say the following:
"He died in the pursuit of a political cause, supposedly in the name of your God, and with the promise of securing eternal selfish pleasure in the afterlife.
"Those he killed did not stand by idly when they understood his goal, and fought to stop him. They struggled to keep their lives, not for selfish reasons but for their families and their friends, for their beliefs and their nation.
"He died through his own choice, and took innocent blood. They were murdered, and died defending their freedom.
"Who is more of God?"
Those last words hopefully sting more than anything else I can ever compose, coming as they do from a self-confessed atheist.
One Atheist on 9/11
This post is a departure. A departure, that is, for Blurried Musings, which I intended as a place for me to throw silly, harebrained ideas against the Internet wall to see if I could make them bounce back. It was a box for play, in and around words and to ridicule the taking of anything seriously. Even when my material required an opinion or temper or measurable amount of nostalgic awe, I made certain to thrust the occasional comic tongue hard through my teeth. However, I will not be doing it for this one. I've swallowed that tongue for now.
I've mentioned in previous posts that I consider myself a Zen Buddhist, and this is true in thought if not in practice, as I no longer follow a regimen of meditation. Not too long ago I tried my hand at a slightly humorous blog on that very subject
. Its short life says more about the limited time there is in a day for activities like blogging than it does about my relationship with Zen. Nonetheless, a zen nomenclature does not completely circumscribe my beliefs. To draw a full disclosure, I must also provide for myself the label of atheist. A long explication to this is not, I feel, necessary. Simply, I do not accept the existence of a God, creator force in nature, or anything resembling same. I will not argue my view; I'm merely providing a foundation for the work to stand on.
(A message to those hoping to seek out and indoctrinate me in their beliefs: I'm in no need of spiritual help or guiding hand. I long ago found my groove in the universe, and I'm rarely nice to those who attempt to dislodge me from it because they're certain they know better than I. That I see a need to provide this warning says more than I wish I had to about us all.)
On and after September 11, 2001, I watched the innumerable television accounts of the fall of the two World Trade Center towers, the destruction to a portion of the Pentagon, the scorched remnants of United Airlines Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania field. My first knowledge of these events came later than their occurrence; on that Tuesday I spent a large part of the day asleep. I had been away from any full-time position for some time, and though I was involved in a minimal Web development project for an online acquaintance throughout September, it allowed me the freedom to work whenever I felt up to it, which was often late into the night. So I spent a majority of Tuesday's daylight hours sleeping in blissful ignorance of what was occurring in Washington, D.C., New York City and Somerset County. Yet I felt no less an impact because of this small remove in time as my television warmed, the picture tube flickered, and I sat in silent shock as my ignorance was forever taken from me.
Though my hurt over what happened is personal, it can never be as close as it is to those who lost family or friends or coworkers. I cannot imagine the level of pain they endure, even though I have two indirect associations to the attacks. A business in one of the towers did work for an operation I was employed at a year previous. And I had briefly met Daniel Lewin, co-founder and Chief Technical Officer for Akamai Technologies, a company the very same operation had a relationship with to deploy Akamai's technology. Daniel was among the passengers on American Airlines Flight 11 when it flew into the north WTC tower. I will not spend any space recounting my feelings about their deaths and those of the three thousand others. What I felt and still feel has been said many times far more eloquently than I can manage. I will say that I refuse to see those who performed the attacks as evil or less than human. Devils would by definition sit outside judgment of the laws and code of moral conduct that govern us; that the terrorists are in truth little different from you and I makes their crimes all the more vile and demanding of the retribution we have, are, and will inflict upon them.
And I will mention a few moments caught like photographs in my memory. One is a news broadcast showing British citizens gathered outside the American embassy in London as they placed bouquets of flowers at the gate. There seemed to be literally thousands of roses and daffodils and carnations caught in the breeze as the camera panned past the faces they were held up before. In all honesty I wept long and openly to the benefit of their sympathy and compassion. The British faces were saddened, and tearful, and lost. They were our faces, and I can see them still. Another moment was the interfaith vigil
at City Hall Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts on September 13, two days after the attacks. Again there were thousands, but this time of the faces. Some belonged to American Airlines employees, many others to those less obvious but just as connected by the violence. They showed little variation to the faces in London, only more tearful, more lost. (Perhaps there was one real difference, being that of anger in some of the faces.)
Through it all I am unable to reach out to my religion for help, as I have none. I cannot pray to God for strength or guidance, as I lack a belief in Him. The strength to endure, the strength to keep from giving in and instead fight must come from myself, and from those I care for, and from the community where I live. Those gathered at City Hall Plaza last September 13 are people I worked alongside of, people I lived near, and among the people I care for. Those in London are as well, however remote they may be to me. And those gathered together anywhere on this coming September 11 will be, as is anyone who feels even the smallest sense of wounding over the attacks. I have no need for a belief beyond them to carry me through the grief and the pain. They are my faith. They are my strength. They are what sustain me.
The words heard at City Hall Plaza that day were from Christian and Jewish and Muslim community leaders. They were words both spoken and sung. Beautifully sung. They were words of condolence, and embrace, and yes, of faith. As I sat and examined the unfolding events from the remoteness of my apartment, not far from Boston but unable to be there physically, I listened to the words, words in English and Hebrew and Arabic. And though I was not of their faiths or of any faith, and though I was miles away, I was there with them. I was there because I needed them. As they needed each other. As they needed me.