insanely crazy, insanely normal

image by helga weber via flickr

Swirling, swirling and finally landing, finally, before my keyboard… life of late has been lived amidst earthquakes and hurricanes, change and the fragility of life itself, which teased me with its troubles yet left me miraculously unscathed, and ever grateful for that.

This is a post about 9/11, but it is really the story of how miraculous it is that in the midst of the storm we have the strength to live, to lend to life the comfort of normality where nothing even remotely normal exists.

Through the power of the image, moving and still, through words, through our own lives and those of others who are near and far, we witness what seems unbearable, and are left in awe… “How can she go on after … ?” “How can they survive after … ?” Insert any one of the terrible things that happen to those who live: the loss of a child, the death of a spouse, the fear of war, the pain of illness, the fog of hunger.

Living never stops until we take that last breath. People in the midst of wars converse, they make love and give birth, they laugh, they cry, they die. Life does not stop when the bombs fall or when the food grows scarce and the belly aches with hunger. Something within or without gives incredible strength to even those most burdened to go on, to live, and fully, one moment at a time, forgetting for the briefest of instants the sadness, the fear, the pain.

How odd it is to the observer that life can, in the midst of these events, seem surprisingly normal and calm. Each day, each moment, when lived for what it is and within the wrapping of one’s life is never untenable, never so blinding that we cannot move to the next.

That gloriously sunny day when the towers burned and fell I heard the plane pass by my window and saw the flames licking the cloudless sky. For hours I walked alone through the streets, clutching the small radio I’d bought in a Radio Shack on whose television screens I watched the second tower fall. I walked for miles, looking to the sky across the shimmery water of the East River scanning it for another plane, stunned with disbelief in that surreal moment. I walked aimlessly, unsure where I should go, what was to happen, strolling calmly, the chaos of the moment within.

Of all places I headed south, under the strikingly beautiful blue sky, all around me the rain of memory, torn confetti-like bits of memos and invoices, contracts and to-do lists falling gracefully to the ground like early snowflakes. I remember the generosity of those who came from the projects which lined the East side, upending milk crates upon which they placed little cups of water which they offered to the sea of dust-covered people who passed like zombies, heading north, stunned by the hell they’d witnessed. They offered smiles and words of encouragement as though all this had been planned and expected, as if these survivors were simply stragglers from the marathon no one had entered.

Bars and cafés were full of others greeting the end of the world with a defiant jolliness. The streets were not chaotic, but civil and orderly. We walked, we watched, we listened. Lovers walked arm in arm. Mothers held their children’s hands to cross the street. People ate sandwiches they’d bought at the deli and sat on benches and waited. Some even fished from the pier, oblivious, perhaps intentionally so, of the fact that the world might be ending, that the next plane might come.

It all seemed so insanely crazy yet at the same time insanely normal, that day.

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

-Czeslaw Milosz, A Song On the End of the World

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11 thoughts on “insanely crazy, insanely normal

  1. This is a really beautiful and moving post. On 9/11 I was on the west coast, about to go out to the meadow and work on a mosaic restoration project. The sun was shining here, too, and the birds were flocking to the mountain ash trees which were full of fruit. I kept coming in to watch the coverage – the same images and news over and over after the horrible spectacle of the second tower. My saving grace was the young woman helping me on the project who after a certain point just wanted to work. Between her native sunniness and the Cedar Waxwings that week passed. We are a resilient species. We want to live. Thanks for this.

  2. Beauiful post! The painting and the poem are perfect choices to go along with your memories. What a surreal day that must have been for the people in NYC. It was surreal for those of us watching it on TV too. My mother in Maryland was talking to someone in Northern Virginia on the phone and the person said “I think I just saw a plane crash into the Pentagon.” The aftermath was like walking through a haze, and I remember being struck by the strangeness of all the signs normalness around me – the food still on the shelves at the grocery, school, work, and t-ball games still happening.

    1. Yes… it was very surreal. When I finally made it home several hours later I found my two young children playing happily and blissfully unaware of what had happened. I do think that the way life continues on gives us strength, and that those surrounded by family and friends always get through the trials of life a little easier than those who are alone.

  3. I thought this was beautiful too, and a good perspective to look at these kinds of events with. “And the world spins madly on…” While your world can be falling apart, people go about their business. This has always been something I think about too. How odd it is that the world doesn’t just stop.

    Loved the poem.

  4. Tracey, what a wonderful, moving post on 9/11. You captured it beautifully. There has been much said lately how our world changed that day. What is sad to realize is that so many years later, we are no closer to feeling ourselves. Maybe it is just part of the human condition and our need to adjust to a periled world. All I know is I loved your post. Your writing inspires!

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