I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.
~ Emily Dickinson, "I measure every Grief I meet"
As I write this, the annual reading of the names of the dead is in progress at the site of the World Trade Center. Voices crack and tears flow as survivors share their memories of their lost loved ones.
On September 11, 2001, it seemed to me the world divided itself into concentric circles of hell. In the center were the people whose voices I'm hearing, those whose loved ones died that day — individual humans devastated by a tragedy on such a grand scale, of such an incomprehensible nature, it was impossible to decipher, fathom or accept. I would not diminish their agony by pretending to understand it.
The second circle held those who lived in one of the places of devastation — New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA. People who saw the flames and smoke, smelled death and inhaled ash and to this day are haunted by it. Anyone who lived in New York will never forget the faces of the lost; their photos, names and phone numbers and the desperate messages from those who loved them and wanted so very much to believe they had escaped death were taped to windows and lamp posts and walls in ever-thicker layers as you traveled downtown. Gradually we came to feel we knew these people through the eloquent stories of victims that appeared in the New York Times.
The third circle contained everyone else whose lives were touched by the horror and devastation — not just in the U.S. but everywhere in the world. The candlelight vigils, the prayers, the tears from every continent made it seem for a moment that perhaps the world could for once come together in understanding.
Nine years later, we know that moment was illusory. Factions of survivors soon began wrestling for control of the horror and its remembrance, some appealing to our better angels for forgiveness and others crying out for revenge. Now cynical political forces and ambitious attention freaks have turned this particular 9/11 anniversary into a cruel circus of bigotry. I admit that it enrages me, and rage is not the emotion I want to feel on this day. 9/11 is everyone's tragedy. For the 10th anniversary next year, let's shut down the cynics and manipulators and restore to this occasion the dignity and compassion it deserves.
My husband and I like to walk on the Jones Beach boardwalk in cold weather. We found this post card in a souvenir shop there in the winter of 2002.