In the background as I go about my work this morning is the television broadcasting coverage of the names of the 9-11 victims being read as they are every year. I don't know of many people who could ever forget that infamous date even without the memorials and dedications, but even I was struck by unexpected emotions these many years later as I stopped my work to look at the faces of those being honored and the faces of those family members who still grieve. This exercise helps us do more than remember. It helps keep it real.
Real people. Real lives. Real families. Real moments of terror when you realize that you will never see your loved one again.
Several years ago, I came across a poem that resonated with me greatly due to some struggles in my life at that time. Upon further research, I found that it was written in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The poem is by Naomi Shihab Nye and it is entitled "Kindness." She reminds us that it could be us. The fallen are not just a news story. They are real lives.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
My family has also been affected in our own way by the events of 9-11 as my two sons, who were school age children at the time, grew up to enlist in the U.S. Marines and fight in the resulting wars. At this writing, my youngest is on his second deployment to Afghanistan.
My boyfriend's son, a little older than my own, was one of many patriotic young men who were motivated to enlist as a direct result of this terrorist attack on American soil. He lost his life on Iraqi soil in 2005. To his father his loss is as real and as fresh to him as the day the Marines came with the news. There's nothing that can heal his grief, not even time. But, it is important to him that people remember. Remembering doesn't make it right, but it is some comfort.
Remember more than the date and the event. Remember the people lost that day and those lost in the wars to follow. Life does go on, we have to carry on, the bus hasn't stopped for us yet. We can always remember with attention and respectful contemplation of the whole of it, not merely notice and dismiss it quickly from our minds thinking it doesn't really affect us. The size of the cloth is large, with many threads woven through it. It belongs to all of us.
No matter how directly or indirectly we may have been affected, we should not be afraid to grab on to that cloth and hold it together. Soak it with our tears and kindly wipe the tears of strangers and friends alike. Never let it go.