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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Milestones... the weight on your shoulders

While everyone is taking a moment to think about what we lost ten years ago as a nation, I find myself thinking that it is selfish to participate in the grief of 3000 families as though our "loss" is the same as theirs. I wonder if it is a habit that we have because of the celebrating that we did at the end of WWII. That affected each and every American in a way that our generation will never understand. It was truly a collective experience as was the celebration at the end. I do not think that this is the case here. Being from Northern Michigan and having been rivetted to the radio during the storm that took out the Edmund Fitzgerald and the search for survivors, I liken 9/11 to that. The survivors do not want to be reminded every single year and every time someone requests the "Wreck" on the radio. I will never feel the loss of those individuals as personally as their families will. And I wonder if it all makes them a little sadder and a little madder. I feel like an intruder. Just like I do today.

Ten years ago I was delivering newspapers, making art in the apartment atop the house I was supposed to inherit from my father, semi-dating the man I worked with who was also my best friend then. Ten years ago +1 week I began to teach myself Arabic calligraphy because I did not think the richness of the Middle Eastern culture was being well represented in the art world. Ten years ago I'd had a revelation about myself that let me let go of the need to please so many people who could not see the true vision of my life... only how they would have liked to see things for me. Ten years ago there was a celestial alignment that followed me on the darkest hours of my route and filled me with an odd mixture of certain hope and unsettling fear.

I knew that I was on the right path for life and art and that a lot of things would have to be destroyed to make room for something new. A yellow gold moon followed me in its fullness on my route for a week, waning into its cresent shape and positioned to be a cradle. As one who believes in omens, I took it as a good sign because I saw that as being receptive to the coming changes. And even though that full moon surrounded by clouds often resembled the luminous eye of a scaley dragon in my rearview mirrio... I felt the courage to face the change and do it bravely. Afterall there was not really a dragon with a gleaming gloat. It was my imagination. The bright star that shone above the cresent cradle was a good sign that I was on the right track. Islamic design needed to make a comeback. Bagdad was a beautiful city in its prime. Forget the jewel of the Nile. Bagdad was light and color, vibrant and expansive. It was the center of trade and learning for a while. And it was a center of peace. I thought that was what we needed to remember as a people. But I thought it would help all the semitic nations to remember how special each is if only they could see themselves and each other in their artwork... the legacy of openess and fraternity that was once the cradle of civilization.

But I couldn't shake how odd that symbolism made me feel. I know that I am an odd duck in that regard. I really do think that Art heals everything. It may not prevent disease and death but it heals the wounds that disease and death leave on our souls. And since the soul is the only thing that really matters; is the only thing that is eternal... I guess that is why I am so passionate about art. But I had a job to do and was only half way through it. Shaking off the uneasy feeling and holding on to the hope of a new direction to take my art, I finished my route.

Driving through the forested roads of Lake Ann I heard some rumblings on the radio that made me turn it off and put in a CD. No time to be distracted. I heard plane crash and thought well... here we go again. And the FAA will never change things to make it harder to skip inspections. Cruisng into Benzie County, I thought of nothing but the coffee waiting for me at Sundance and the familiarity of community there. Every morning I'd stop and chat with my fellow customers about art and music and everything else that they were into. It was in the riverside building that was really too small for many guests. And the new building was in the midst of remodel. I was looking forward to that. I could spend sometime there before heading to Cadillac for school. But that morning I pulled up to the curb and hopped out to fill the paper box and found myself surrounded by questions.

Have you heard? What are they saying about it?
I think everyone forgot that I delivered the paper... a day late and a dollar short on current events. So they caught me up to speed. The only thing that I remember clearly about that conversation was Quentinn. An artsy guy, he rode a bike everywhere and he was shaking. The woman who owned the coffee shop was out east visiting family and getting some ideas for the decor in the new place. He and Anne and she and her husband were close. he was scared for her and her husband as much as how his wife might take the loss of a friend. Quentinn was like our Norm Peterson. And in a month he would be gone... killed in a bike car crash. I was stunned. I did not get my coffee that morning. Instead I turned right around an sped back to Matt's house.

He'd finished his route before me. He'd called me a few times on the cell phone. But it was a cheap model and there were deadspots ten years ago where there was no signal out there. When I got to his house he was at his dining room table, cigarette in one hand, rum in the other and crying like a baby. The TV was on and we sat in stunned silence for hours. The paper called to say that they were quadrulping our order for the morning delivery so we should change our numbers accordingly. And that was that. No matter what happens in the world it is all going to boil down to how many papers will sell.

It was not the number of lives lost. It was not about how things will change forever. It was not about anything but money. How many papers  can you get out in your area? And that was all that we were left with for the day. Hollow and sad. I knew that whatever I thought about islamic design was going to be colored by this forever. An then I remembered Mir. He lived in Buffalo and traveled for his music. His life would change forever. Born of Pakistani and Indian parents, no one would believe that he was not responsible for what happened even though he just plays guitar.

Matt and I consoled each other. Went to bed and got up to meet the cartage truck. Nothing really had sunk in until I got to the stores that were open. All I heard that morning was the violence that people wanted to do to "any towel-head" they could get their hands on. The men at the convenience stores, my brother, even the mild mannered old ladies behind the counter were ready for a lynching. And then I got to Benzie. The remaining vacationers were talking around the tables at Sundance as though it were a funeral parlor. The 15 people crammed into the little shop all knew someone who was in the building, should have been in the building or were working, driving, going to school by those buildings. And for most of them their lives were never going to be the same.

Even though we were compatriots of the arts and that particular roast of coffee and had socialized for the better part of my best Summer delivering papers, I felt like an outsider... an intruder. Their loss was personal. There were birthday parties that they would never get to go to. There were graduations and weddings that these people were never going to attend. The smile that welcomed them at the door was gone forever. And all that was taken from me was a sense of sureity. And a false sense at that.

Ten years ago my life was very diffferent. But 9/11 did not change that at all. It changed because of the choices that I and the people in my life made. Choices that made serious complications. Complications that made for copious amounts of grief which time has only compounded as I am now a month from the 6th anniversary of my father's death. I am too far removed in time and connection from the principal players in those events to feel like it is a grief to share. And I feel a little guilty and ashamed when I try to share. I feel like a gate crasher.

I would hope that as time passes peace will find its way through the pain for all those involved. And I hope that they know those we grieve with them mean well, like Mr. Lightfoot with his song. But I also hope that they will understand that some of us chose not to throw our hats in because we do not want to be the weight of a milestone that holds them down. I tend to think that this should be a footnote in our collective history like the war of 1812 or something so as to allow life to come back to these people's lives.

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