I just got an email from someone saying “it’s hard to find meaning these days. It feels like the world ended on 9/11…” in some ways it feels to me like the world BEGAN on 911. There was a kind of dullness that has been sharpened in the same way that I felt my senses heightened after my mother died. I have been feeling the strangest sensation of finding the world to be so much more in tune with my general state of being than I ever have. Part of it is this incredible situation of opening the NY Times and finding article after article on healing, on various forms of grief: ambiguous loss, sudden loss, survivor guilt, the article Sunday about the special grief of people who were not directly affected,etc.
When my parents died, the message was basically, “you’re on your own, now buck up and get back to work. We won’t speak of this again.” I remember when I read Heaven’s Coast and Mark Doty was talking about feeling unable to read with any focus in the month (?) or so after Wally’s death and that was the first time I had had any sense that the distraction I had felt was not due to some character flaw.
I understand the feeling of how it seems difficult to find meaning when life is treated with such brutality– I have felt that very acutely at other times, and I certainly felt it in the first days after 9/11, how it seemed like everything that was gentle and small was somehow taken away, but now it seems like the gentle and small gestures are what are flourishing. I feel like meaning is actually much easier to find these days. On the streets. In the NY Times. There seem to be more gestures of mystery everywhere. The staircase that didn’t collapse while 6 men helped a woman down it when everything else around it did. St. Paul’s and Trinity church remaining intact. On every corner is an expression of someone’s deep connection to someone else. (“Our Jennifer has a middle initial Y.”) People seem more able to sort out what is superfluous and better tuned into what they truly care about and are good at doing.
To me it feels like the world was revealed, split open. and it’s still smouldering where the plates heaved. Still bringing forth more.
The greatest concentrations of evolutionary biological permutations have occurred after cataclysmic changes. That seems similar to how there is the greatest diversity of life clustered in liminal regions, such as the seashore. Where there is shifting and change, there is new growth.
When we were talking about terrorism, I was saying to Stanley that I would strongly prefer not dying right now, but that I’m not afraid to die. What I’m afraid of is being fearful, being dead while I’m alive. He said, “yes, but one would prefer the death to be a natural one.” I said, “I’m not so sure that death by terrorism is not a natural death.”
I keep trying to think of these events in biological terms. If the world is one organism made up of a network of organisms what is the analogue for terrorism in the so-called natural world? when does one part of an organism destroy another part of itself? what types of imbalances occur in organisms that lead to this kind of action? does this happen in the body? In the world of plants? are there analogous geological events? events of weather? I go down this path of thought because my effort is to try to understand this by not singling it out as an event that is singular and unprecedented.
My instinct is that while this is a tragedy of an incalculable scale, with infinite reverberations, it is not special in any way in the natural world. It is a huge opportunity for learning for the billions of us involved in it. I wonder what we’ll be learning.
I think about the idea that the “difficult” person is our greatest teacher of compassion. This seems to be an extreme opportunity to test that proposition.