Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ground Zero, lower Manhattan

If I look within myself at this place, I return to a memory so painful it still causes me to twist my head away as though ducking a blow. It is the image of a street covered in thick black dust, under thunderclouds, and at the end of the street the still-standing remains of a section of the World Trade Center towers, twisted and blackened and looking like the very mouth of hell, those Gothic arches backlit in the afternoon gloom from the arc lights of the searchers, the damp dust like cinders under my feet and the sheer hatred of the attack reverberating weeks after the towers fell. It caught me by surprise even though I knew it was there, as Katherine and I walked in the rain and held each other, walking in downtown Manhattan to spend some money to support the local vendors, the only time I could bring myself to go.
There was beauty still: the arches persisted, they were not all thrown down, something defiant remained in their shattered suggestion of a cathedral entrance, of praying hands, of a portal that said: through these arches lies a womb, beyond this defilement there is rebirth, even here there will be love.But the overriding pulse in that place was of such anger and hatred that I could not look at it for more than a second or two, I had to walk away, east, toward the Seaport. It will never leave my mind's eye.We have been locked in a labyrinth since that day. How do we react, how does anyone react, to an act of such wickedness and still remain ourselves? You cannot be good unless you survive. But there is a monster within us who out of sheer fear says: do anything, hurt anyone, I don't care: to anyone beyond the bounds of my tribe, anything may be done.
Today I thought I would die. I was so scared that for a moment I wanted anything, anything at all to happen to prevent it. Then suddenly I wasn’t afraid. We were right underneath Ground Zero. I stared into the face of death, and I fought for my life. I saw something in myself I had not seen before, and I came out on the other side. It was the ability, the desire, to kill.
It was dangerous, inchoate, raw energy that poured through me. Blood energy. I know now, with complete confidence, that I can draw on it again, whenever I need it.
Many years ago, someone within my family wrote to me with seven lines of wisdom. The first line was this: To live well, know death.
I think I understand: these were the first energies I had to tap into on the quest I have embarked upon. Raw, powerful, potentially murderous. If I can’t yoke them, I won’t have the strength to survive. But how to harness them?
At Ground Zero the towers fell and St. Paul’s was left intact, not a window broken. A friend of mine, a masseuse, volunteered there for weeks, working on cops and firemen and construction workers, offering real physical compassion as others put together the Chapel's ministry of meals and water, a place to sleep, a place to find some solace for the heart. Yet this was all for "our" people, for those like us who had suffered, those with whom we identified. For "identity" comes from "idem", the same. It is easy to pray for our friends. How many of us can truly pray for our enemies, for those who actively seek our death?

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