September 10, 2011
Then my Joy grew pale and weary because no other heart but mine
Held its loveliness and no other lips kissed its lips.
Then my Joy Died of isolation.
And now I only remember my dead Joy in remembering my dead Sorrow.
– Kahlil Gibran, The Madman
Tomorrow America marks the tenth anniversary of Nine-Eleven. A day seared in large, flashing neon numbers across the consciousness of the country. The day The World Changed. The day we changed.
I’d decided a couple of weeks ago that I wouldn’t write about 9/11 this year. What could I say that hadn’t been said a hundred times over these past ten years? That wouldn’t be said again this year in a hundred news stories, internet articles, television shows and interviews?
Then, wandering the internet a few days ago, I stumbled across a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Madman, a book I hadn’t read since my semi-bohemian days (yes, I’m really that old) as an art major back in the late 1950s. I’ve reread it several times over these past days. In the last three poetic essays – When My Sorrow Was Born, And When My Joy Was Born and The Perfect World – which end with the cry, “Why am I here, O God of lost souls …?” the madman seemed to speak of these last ten years.
The world did change; we changed. On September 11, 2001, three thousand of our fellow human beings died here in a terrorist attack and, over these last ten years, tens of thousands of our fellow human beings across the Middle East and Asia have died at our hands in retribution. These ten years of wars, overt and covert, and the gigantic security state erected to make the Empire safe, have pushed us to the verge of bankruptcy as a nation – both financially and morally – as we spent trillions of dollars and tortured, killed and disappeared those we declared our enemies. As the Empire crumbles and the consequences of our actions take their toll on the nation, we are everywhere encouraged to live our lives in fear and despair. We now only remember our dead joy in remembering our dead sorrow.
Grief is a normal response to loss; we all grieve our dead in different ways and for differing lengths of time. But if we are not to drown in that black despair, to be sucked into a whirlpool of our own fears as the empire crumbles and the world changes again, we must find a way to turn away from death back to life – as individuals and as a nation. If we do not, the nation will not survive the problems we face.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the ancient preacher reminded us that, to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
The problems we face are real; we can’t merely wish them away. We can choose, however, whether we face them with fear and despair, or turn away from death back to life.
Why am I here, O god of lost souls? I am here to laugh again in memory of the living; I am here to dance my imperfections in the maw of that Perfect World.