A Late-in-the-Day Word about 9/11

the plane about to hitSmoke rises from a building and we think of them. It can be any building, anywhere. A plane rises from the ground and we think of them, and pray they did not see death rushing toward them.

It is so hard NOT to imagine their final moments, our minds somehow veer away from them, so heart-breaking are they to contemplate. Instead I find that my mind has hovered around another event these last few days, one that took place nearly 100 years ago, also in lower Manhattan:

A fire broke out on one of the top floors of the Triangle Shirt Factory on March 25, 1911. The workers trapped there, with flames raging behind them and firefighters’ ladders far too short to reach them, leaped to the sidewalks below and met death there.

There’s a poem called “Shirt,” written by Robert Pinsky, that touches in part on this tragedy. He speaks of a witness in the building across the street, who watched a doomed young man help first one girl and then another step up to the windowsill, “as if he were helping them up to enter a streetcar, and not eternity.“ Before jumping himself, he held these two girls out, away from the wall, then let them drop. “A third, before he dropped her, put her arms around his neck and kissed him.”

Then he held her into space, and dropped her too.

Some say the only way out is through; that if we are to find ease on the other side of sorrow, it will only be by allowing ourselves to feel that sorrow wholly.

In studying this other tragedy, I have been able to get at the pain I feel over its modern counterpart.

Those families must have felt things very much like the families of the September victims. The next morning’s New York Times said “grief-stricken crowds gathered at the site of the factory, crying the names of their loved ones.”

I looked up these names: Julia and Lizzy and Abraham, some of them were, Anna and Rosie and Jacob.

Not a week after the attacks, I attended one of the strange memorial observances so common that autumn. Like most of the others, it was a wake without a casket, a funeral without an interment. At the Mass’s end, the priest bent into a microphone. “Take some flowers,” he told us all – because there was no grave on which to lay them.

There will never be graves for many who met death that day. Met it at the Pentagon or in the Towers. Met it in the soft soil of Pennsylvania, where thousands of our Civil War dead met death too.

I think of Walt Whitman, who during that war came to the Capitol in Washington expressly to nurse and comfort the sick and dying soldiers filling its halls. In “Leaves of Grass,” he spoke of the “beautiful uncut hair of graves.” Whitman could see beauty anywhere. And he knew how to befriend death, as we all must learn to do, early or late.

I think of the weather we had that week, the way each day dawned so clear and brimmed with a crisp pale-amber light.

There is that light to think of now.

And there is that image, given us by our own modern poet.

I refer to the kiss, and then the letting go.

All the ones we have ever lost: they kiss us now. They ask us to let them go.

Here Comes the Bride

IMG_2161Bridal showers are always fun. Nobody knows anybody else so you have to mix it up. At the shower I just attended for my niece Grace, the bride-to-be was both radiant AND composed as she opened 1,000 boxes of filmy underwear.

She’ll use it all though; fads come and go but women still wear underpants.

Also bras, I’m pretty sure

Back in the Pleistocene era when the mother of the bride and I were given bridal showers we received these hideous two-part things for what was then referred to us our ‘trousseau.’  What they were even called I can’t remember. One part would be this enormously flounced-out, mostly see-through garment shaped like a dinner bell  that came with a second enormously flounced-out  mostly see-through over-garment that tied at the neck with a bow. I was just a kid when I got married: Nan was too. We spent our days in cut-offs. Why were they dressing us like lampshades in a little girl’s bedroom?

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These gifts were better. Grace received and immediately donned a white baseball cap with the word ‘Bride’ on it…

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…and praised and relished every single present while her mom took notes on who gave what.

There was some poorly shot video by me which I will try to post here in a bit, but suffice to say that everyone had fun.

We ate and drank in the delicate way women do. We talked about our fertility, our surgeries, our men. Sooner or later when women are together they’re bound to share such truths. Once at church in a special session called Discerning Your Path, I got paired up with my friend J. We were instructed to talk about the times we felt the call of God upon our lives but as she said later to a third pal, we mostly just complained about our husbands. (Tell you what, put women in charge of the world and honesty will rule over all!)

Anyway it was a great time – and now we have the wedding to look forward to. Our lovely bride and her beautiful groom: Long may they prosper!

Gracie in Troy's lap