Elegy for Our Common Identities

September 11, 2021

Today was the 20 year anniversary of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon in Washington, DC.  I, and many other Americans, watched and listened to the event that took place at the 9-11 memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. For several hours, pairs of people took turns to read the names of every person who was killed by the terrorist attack.

The people who read the names of the dead were all relatives of someone who died. Two by two, they stood somberly and read name after name, in alphabetical order.

Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of that fateful and tragic day. As the names of each one were read, I listened. Musicians played lovely, quiet chamber music to accompany the readings. Many emotions washed over me during the course of the memorial service.  Sorrow was the keynote underlying the entire service. One by one, the readers honored the one they had personally lost. Patterns quickly emerged:  father, brother, cousin, mother, sister, daughter, son. People of all ages honored their loved one, including many children and youth who never had the opportunity to know the one who died personally. And yet, each one spoke similar words of knowing them through the stories, pictures, and family ties they had for the past twenty years. Most of the readers remarked that they wished their beloved could have been alive to see their families grow and mark the milestones of their common lives—graduations, births, marriages, and other significant moments. Some readers choked up and cried as they read their memorial, feeling the loss as acutely as if time stood still. Many spoke of the pain they still felt as they remembered their beloved one every single day. And many ended with the words, we will meet again one day.

Corey Kilgannon for The New York Times

The common threads that were repeated over and over during the course of the four hour ceremony became apparent and important to recognize. A few of these threads include:

The names of the dead read as a reminder of who lives in America. The ancestors of these people came from all parts of the world, and yet they were all together in New York on that fateful day. All races, religions, creeds, and belief systems were represented in those who died.

Everyone who died had someone (or many) who cared about them, and misses them very much to this day. And, the important point that each person was simply a human, living their ordinary life on a clear September morning, when something unforeseeable and utterly horrific happened to them that was completely beyond their control.

This blog post is not the place to discuss the implications of everything that came after 9-11-2001, or of how the world changed forever because of that day. This post is simply my way to honor and remember, along with many others, those whose lives were taken from those whom they loved.

During the livestream, they showed the memorial itself. It is a brilliant representation of the eternal nature of life, death and spirit. A deeply built square fountain and pool of water that continually recycles. Around the perimeter are all the names of those who died carved into the stone rim. There were flowers and flags placed next to everyone’s name. The symbolism is profound as a fitting memorial to the human spirit which can never die, regardless of the destruction of the physical body.

Although today’s memorial service was specifically for the ones who died on 9-11-2001, I also sensed the larger memorial to all of those who have left us through no fault of their own. The pandemic has taken many millions of lives and left millions more behind to grieve. In a real sense, this time on Earth seems to be one of intense grieving and loss. There is a line in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Christian-Judeo bible that states, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die … A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”  This is a time to mourn, to remember all that has happened, and to honor it for the lessons we have learned as the whole of humanity.

Radical Amazement

Mary Oliver once wrote that when death comes, she wants to be able to say that all her life she was a bride married to amazement. I think she always knew that she had it in her to do amazing, incredible things with her life, and so she went ahead and did them, through poetry and teaching and observing life and nature. For me, she embodies a life well lived, a beautiful marriage of giving oneself to the world and at the same time, making sure she always had enough time for herself, for solitude and contemplation. She has had the great fortune of a grace-filled life. She can rest in the knowledge that through her efforts, she has touched and inspired millions of people across the world. In my own humble way, I would love to be able to say, at the end of my life, that I too have been a bride married to amazement. That I too did something artistic and wonderful and giving which made a difference to others’ lives. That people grew for having known me, that they found a creative part of themselves which they hadn’t quite been able to access before. That knowing me inspired them in some way, and made their lives richer than it would have otherwise been. I don’t think this is purely an ego-desire on my part, but rather a sincere desire to share my gifts, to fulfill the purpose I was born to fulfill. I am beginning to see, starting to know why I am here, and what it is that I wish to do with my remaining time.

We are more magnificent than we can imagine.

It is not difficult to waste one’s life on trivialities and petty dramas. People do it all the time. We humans are masters of making mountains out of molehills, and conversely, denying and covering up our actual pain and suffering so that we don’t have to deal with them. We are all grappling with being in these human forms, and the difficulties of embodiment on earth at this time. We are all aware of the consequences of this life: addictions, violence, separation, depression, suicide, dissolution, despair, desperation. What can we do, how can we deal with our anxieties and fears?

life-quotes-inspirational-life-quotes-appreciate-life

Everybody has a story to tell here. The biggest favor we can do for each other is to listen to another tell their story. Not with judgment or condemnation, but simply for the fact that they will heal by telling it, eventually. Many of us love to read stories, whether fiction or factual matters not. We love certain characters in a novel, play or movie because he seems all too familiar, because we see ourselves in her. My story is a little bit yours too. Okay, now I don’t feel quite so alone out here on the high seas of life. Your story has given me a lifeline, something I can hold onto, a way to help me get back to shore. When I am feeling low and alone, and like no one else in the universe cares or remembers that I exist, when eating alone the tenth night in a row is making me feel completely miserable, or when the demons come in the middle of night and attack me with their punishing thoughts, what can I do? Give in, lay down in a puddle on the floor and want to end it all? No. I will not give into fear and thoughts of hopelessness. Somehow I must find strength within myself to climb out of the hole, to hold on until the morning, to find hope that I will again one day be cooking for two or twenty. Because I am not only doing this work for myself, but for every other lonely and afraid human out there also. My struggle, my battle with the darkness of my soul is everyone’s battle. The single most important work that any of us can do now, is to embrace the love and light within ourselves, while acknowledging the darkness and pain there too, and work to find all the ways, big and small, to shine it upon the world. Every single day.

By now, I am way beyond self-help books and pep talks (even though I sometimes still read and listen to them.) Life is about more than that, and is much, much more complex. Good advice is all well and good, but the times are calling for something far deeper and greater. Our world needs compassion like never before. It can be the smallest gesture, a smile or a friendly greeting to another human as we walk down the street. It can also be simply noticing others, from people to the birds in the tree above your head. Every gesture counts. Every thought also.

When I learn how to truly love what is in my own heart, it will automatically free me to love everyone and everything else which appears to be outside of me. The illusion is that there is any separation. I love you.

<p style="font-size:15px" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">[Note: This post comes from an older blog I had on WordPress, called <em>Clearskies, Bluewater. </em> I wrote the original post in January of 2014. In upcoming posts, I will be sharing some of the best writing from that blog with readers of <strong><em>interrelatedplanet.org.</em></strong> Thanks for reading and sharing.][Note: This post comes from an older blog I had on WordPress, called Clearskies, Bluewater. I wrote the original post in January of 2014. In upcoming posts, I will be sharing some of the best writing from that blog with readers of interrelatedplanet.org. Thanks for reading and sharing.]

Peace, hope & trust for 2021

Happy holidays, Dear Readers! This post has been a long time coming, my apologies for that. The past four months have been—let’s just say A LOT—and I have struggled with writing on this blog.

Now comes the end of 2020, a year in which so much changed for humanity and our beloved planet. No matter where you were on Earth this year, most likely you felt the changes in myriad ways. We were changed from subatomic to cosmic levels—literally the atmosphere, the air we breathe, the way we live our lives, and the way we see one another all shifted during 2020.

Those we have lost this year have left Earth, but they live on through our memories.

This year we collectively became aware of the presence of death in a whole other dimension than previously. Never before in living history were so many humans taken from their lives on Earth at once as this year. The Covid-19 virus has taken over 1 million, 642,000 people from the Earth this year. Depending on who you talk to, which news outlets and social media sites you read, and what your personal belief system is, this information will affect you in various ways. Regardless, I think we can still agree that an enormous number of souls left the planet, and the sheer number of deaths is a force that humanity has been reckoning with in ways large and small this year.

Along with the natural grief and sorrow that death brings, I believe that having to face so much death this year has forced us to grow up somewhat about this subject, especially in western countries. I live in the United States, which has by far experienced the most infections and deaths from the virus. It seems that death has been a weird, taboo subject for Americans. We don’t like to talk or think about it, and in fact many people spend most of their lives doing everything possible to deny and avoid the subject altogether. Which is really quite strange, considering that it is surely going to happen to every single one of us at some point in our lives. Why then, is there such terrific fear around such a natural process? Everyone is born, lives for a limited amount of time, and then dies. Is it really such a frightening experience? We humans experience death all the time. We squash bugs, run over squirrels, cut down trees, and eat many millions of slaughtered and processed animals every single day. Others hunt for their own food, or raise and slaughter their own poultry, hogs, cattle and sheep. This has been humanity’s way of living for untold thousands of years. Most people don’t even think twice about killing another life in order to further their own. Death is present all the time in the world. Why then, is it so uncomfortable for us to face our own, or that of those we love?

Perhaps you have experienced death during 2020, of someone close to you or someone you knew slightly. Or you read and heard many stories of people who died this year. Some stories were tragic, others were poignant and beautiful. Some died while still quite young, while many who died had lived long lives. Death, like birth, is a uniquely individual experience, and simultaneously a universal one. It is a process, and depending on how it is experienced, can be beautiful and simple, or painful and complicated. Or both. Many of the stories I heard this year mentioned how grateful the narrator was for their beloved and the time they had with those who passed on. The biggest lesson to come out of this year filled with global death, seems to be the lesson of making the most of the time you’ve got while you are alive. Nobody knows exactly how long we’ve got in these physical bodies once we arrive. The absolute best thing we can do with our time on Earth is to make the most of every day. We needn’t do incredible feats to awe the masses (although that’s great too), because I think the whole point of being alive is to appreciate that fact and learn how to love yourself and everyone and everything else.

Dear Readers, I wish you the very best life you can imagine living for the new year of 2021. Appreciate everything, from the moment you awaken in the morning, until you fall asleep at night. See everyone else as your brothers and sisters, both human and non-human. Notice the incredible quality of the sun’s light now as it shines upon us all. Feel reverence for the night sky and all our star families who are helping those of us living on Earth’s surface. Become increasingly aware of the amazing gift we are given to live on this gorgeous planet. Help and love your family, friends, neighbors and those you don’t personally know. We are one family, and have one planet which is our common home. Make the most beautiful life possible for yourself and your beloveds in 2021. Become fearless and love it all.