Tag: September 11 Memorial

On Poetry, Death, Running and Kid Power

 

This past weekend a magical vortex was created in New York City. The axis created by Halloween falling on a Saturday night, the NYC Marathon the following day, with an extra hour of much needed sleep tossed into the sweet spot center thanks to the arrival of daylight savings time.

After we slept off our Trick or Treating fun, and before Julia and I headed to an uptown Marathon viewing party, we made our way to church Sunday morning. And it was at Unity of New York that a reminder came that this Sunday, too, was different.

“Today is ‘The Day of the Dead’,” Barbara Biziou our guest speaker said. “When most of the world honors its ancestors. Let’s all take a moment and honor the shoulders we stand upon.”

Since September, my town has celebrated and honored our special dead. We face 9/11 feeling the heaviness of the past as it extends into the present. We try to shake off the day, to a certain extent, going about our meetings, and our days, and our lattes as we had on September 10th.  But we cannot, not fully.

Annually, the city is asked to pause at 8:46 am for a moment of silence at the time the first tower fell. We stop for the reading of the names televised at the annual memorial service at Ground Zero. We see the portraits of friends and family, loved ones lost; the stained grief on the faces of those left to mourn. And we know, as New Yorkers, everyone of us lost someone that day.

And on Marathon Day 2015 those lost on 9/11 came back to me in a fresh way, rekindled by a poem I’d read from Next Door to the Dead, a collection from Kathleen Driskell, a Kentucky based poet.

The volume gets its name from an interesting fact. Driskell and her husband purchased an old church and renovated it into a cool, modern home for their family. Still, one of the most salient features of their repurposed home is its backyard cemetery. The family was assured that the cemetery was no longer in use. But, soon after Driskell, her husband and children moved in, a funeral party showed up, and dismantled that idea. So be it, Driskell probably thought. Artists take their inspiration from many sources. Even death.

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 4.07.36 PM

Unused Grave

While time and elements refilled

you with nothing but your own red dirt,

have you thought long on who managed to skirt

your fixed and final embrace?

A solder’s miraculous recovery

from the bluing fever of Spanish flu?

 

Or knocked cold by the back hoof

of an ornery mule,

the blacksmith, hair slicked neat and combed,

and his only suit, nearly nailed

into the box but for a pallbearer

who saw a finger twitch?

 

Or perhaps the remarried wife,

whose last letter cut deep,

revealing she’d really rather sleep

for an eternity next

to her first husband?

 

Or perhaps when excavated,

you sprang a leak and your bottom

became a bay where no one wanted

to launch a loved one’s final ship.

 

No matter. Whoever’s escaped you

has now long been caught.

 

The anniversary of 9/11 reminds every New Yorker of the grave we escaped that day, of the graves that still lie at the edge of Manhattan, the graves of loved ones elsewhere, and those that wait for us all.

Then, in September, Pope Francis came town. Followed by the runners. And citizens took to the streets, to remind one another of our better selves; that we can do better. Love better. “That our best days are ahead of us, not behind us,” as I heard from the pulpit of Unity of New York.

Image by Bryan R. Smith/ Associated Press /www.wsj.com
Image by Bryan R. Smith/ Associated Press
/www.wsj.com

“Why do New Yorkers come out so strongly for the marathon?” Friends across the country ask. “Why do you watch for the last runner to cross the finish line under darkness from the comfort of your couches on the eleven o’clock news? Why do people who’ve never even laced on a jogging shoe care about a 26.2 mile race? Because the runners that travel from all over the world to pound it out across our five boroughs remind us of the importance of moving forward with positive intent. To live fearlessly and well, for ourselves, our families, friends, and the nearly 3,000 lives that perished. That raising our collective voices in support of another is one of the greatest ways to celebrate the Day of the Dead. And to leave the pondering about graves to the poets.

Infant Daughter, Marcus 2 Years Old,

Myra 8 Days

Among these tiny grave markers, I think of my own

little terrorists, my budding suicide bombers.

They shriek against inoculations, squirm, refusing

the spinach on their plates, try to swallow marbles,

run from the care of the woman who is

CPR certified. They smile when they see me

watching their plump fingers fingering the cord.

Every day, with such joy, they threaten

to blow apart my heart so utterly.

 

And as I watched Julia and her tiny pals lining the street of upper Fifth Avenue in Harlem, the bright sun and their inner glow lighting their faces, I thought of the above poem. And as each runner approached their awake, the children raised a rainbow of hands–tan, pink and brown–to deliver high fives, tiny, soft prayers of support, I saw their affirmations against suicide bombers delivered to all those present, running or not.

Next to the Dead by Kathleen Driskell

Available for purchase at amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Next-Door-Dead-Kentucky-Voices/dp/0813165725/ref=sr_1_16/188-6114239-5611955?ie=UTF8&qid=1431390411&sr=8-16&keywords=next+door+to+the+dead

 

The Eternal Classroom

On eve of the first day of school for Julia, I awoke twice in the night, rose from bed before dawn, made a double cappuccino, dressed, guided my daughter from her bed, helped her dress, gave her a breakfast of yogurt and fruit, marched her a few blocks west, and together we hopped the subway to enter her new phrase of life.

Julia took to the classroom like a fish to agua. That act did not worry me. However, as I watched her play with new friends, and interact with new toys, new teachers, new ways of learning and being in the world, I could not help to think one thought: My daughter had dragged me towards a new level of understanding, yet again. Everything in life is impermanent.

Children are Zen Buddhists in Pull-Ups. Just when parents become accustom to one phase, the wee-set is off to the next. And as I watched the wide faces of wonder woven into the flesh of other parents, men and women who studied their kids like a newly discovered geo-fossil, I remembered; shifting sands of change are the foundation for life. Julia’s job: to keep that insight front and center.

Just so I did not miss the point, the universe, on this very important day issued a few more reminders. It began, around 1pm, with a ringing phone.

In the rush to get Julia to school on time, I left, on the kitchen counter, my lunch. So, I called in my sushi order, my favorite “I forgot my lunch,” treat. At the other end of the line, the phone rang and rang and rang. Odd. So odd, I decided to walk to the eatery. Eight to ten minutes into the trek, twice my mind tried to nudge me to other take-out places, the first deemed too pricy, the second, its order line, so long, it trailed down the length of the small shop and out the door on to the street. So, I kept moving.

As I rounded the corner, on Seventh Avenue I saw the chairs, glassware and oval-shaped plates out on the tables lining the walkway in front of the black and red-painted wall of the restaurant. “Maybe they had a flood in the kitchen,” I thought working to reassure myself, for a few moments until I reached the entrance. The laser set note attached to the rectangular glass read:

“Dear Loyal Patrons of Ido Sushi.
We regret to inform our dear customers and friends that we have decided to close this beautiful establishment due to rising costs and the impact of hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, we are unable to raise prices as this would go against our beliefs in providing great food at great prices.
We are happy for those great moments we have experienced and…

And I could not read any further.
“They closed last Saturday,” an older man supervising people through the selected wears said.
“When they didn’t answer the phone I feared the worse. But kept walking over here. I had to see,” I answered. “I could just cry.”
He shrugged. “Lots of people have come by saying the same thing. They announced online they were closing on the 8th. Fifty opera singers came to say good-bye.”
This news made me even sadder. From the photos on the walls, near the sushi station, and set above a tiny stage, I knew opera singers frequently, after a working gig, came to Ido to sing for their supper. But as my backup lunch joint, I rarely ventured downtown on weekends. Ido Sushi closed on a Saturday. September 8th.
The man’s white hair flipped and flopped in the heated gale; a pale-sail as he looked down at the loose collection of liquor bottles—gin, apple-flavored vodka— resting on an angled side table. “Today is their daughter’s birthday. They just wanted to enjoy it. So they just decided to put the rest of the stuff outside.”

The Ido Presentation Board
The Ido Presentation Board

Out of the Demetrius of a ten-year old business, I spotted a large, lacquered wood cutting board/ sashimi presentation server. I pulled it out from the shelf and tucked it under my arm.

When I discovered four, pearl-hued desert dishes—unchipped and smooth, tucked on in their sides inside of a brown paper box—I asked the handy guy standing watch to help me guide them into a plastic bag. I took a funny turquoise and crème colored shaped ceramic bowl just because.
I headed back to my office, the wood of the worn board heating up against my palms in the liquid humidity. In my mind, in the ninety-degree temperature, the large board grew heavier. Time alters the weight of all things.

Holding the curve of the wood, studying the lacquered grain, at each stop light, I thought of the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who had dined from it, toasted above it, maybe stolen a kiss over it.

Ido Desert Dishes
Ido Desert Dishes

I picked up a Cobb Salad, and managed to run into not one but two old friends, women I had lost touch with over the last six or seven years. Today mementos walked the streets of Manhattan.
Walking further south down Hudson Street, past the food trucks and lunch seekers, from the burger truck, Frites and Meats, the scent of fire-grilled beef, fried onions, and Detroit summers, hit my nose. The sound of “Hotel California” by The Eagles slammed against my ears. The famous guitar riff, known by Eagles fans and those who could not even pick out a member from a line up, delivered an old memory. I had watched a man, my serious last boyfriend, play this tune many times, with a righteous flair, to my delight, to my awe. But no more. Four years ago, like fine Japanese pottery, we broke.

But today I did not receive pain or loss or longing in the lyrics, in the guitar licks. I found something new and fresh to ride over the heated air of another September 11th in New York City. Entertainment and forgiveness. Here in Manhattan where no matter what we do on September 11th we do in memorial to the lost.