a photo and video, and thoughts on age and aging
My mom will turn ninety next month and my sister has been going through old boxes in her basement looking for photographs. She found this one just last week, and mom is on the right looking very fashionble while standing with Uncle Alfred and Aunt Tiny on the roof of the Empire State Building. I think it must be sometime in the late thirties before the war started, since it looks so peaceful and calm so far up in the air. That this came to me just days ahead of the tenth anniversary of what we simply call 9/11 was not lost on me.
For the second time in as many years, yesterday on Facebook I learned of the death of someone I have known and cared about. I’m used to seeing the daily reminders that this or that singer would have been eighty years old today, or that this or that performer has died and we’ll watch a video, say nice things about them and move on with our lives. News about people you really don’t know personally is just that…news. But when you find out a person you’ve spoken with, shared time together with, broken bread with, laughed and cried with has passed on, it’s a very different experience. It’s hard.
Throughout the past week my fifteen year old German exchange student and I sat on the couch together in front of the television and watched many of the special broadcasts about 9/11. She was five when it happened, and seemed as interested to learn about that day as I was in trying to forget about it. It’s been many moons since I’ve watched the footage of the planes smashing into the Towers, the dust storm as they fell, the people searching for survivors, the doctors and nurses waiting to treat the sick and injured who never showed up. Ten years later and the smell of death, from three weeks after the attacks when I stood at ground zero, is still inside my nose, as I know it will always be.
They had a Republican presidential candidate debate last night down in Florida, hosted by the Tea Party people. I didn’t watch it, as I’m not interested in what venom they spew and the hate they peddle. Am I being a little harsh? When the talk turned to health care issues and a question was asked about what you do with a sick and uninsured person…do you let them just die…several in the crowd yelled “Yeah!”. I checked the news this morning…not one single candidate has spoken out against that “Yeah!”…they’re not ashamed of it, they don’t give a shit. I look at these eight candidates, my neighbors with their “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and can taste the bile rising up in my throat.
And this week, this moment in time, as we remember the thousands of lives lost on 9/11, the ones that are slowly dying today due to exposure of toxicity, the children and mothers and wives and brothers and fathers and sisters…who alone at night think of those final moments over and over in their heads. I recall the line to a song…ten years ago, on a cold dark night…because even though the attacks came on a sky blue morning, it was when the night came and nobody came home from work that you knew. It was the night.
My mom will be ninety next month. I’ll be flying into New York in about ten days to visit with her and my family. My sister and I will take her down the turnpike to Philadelphia, where we all grew up and lived for much of our lives, to drive the streets in search of memories lost, and to visit the grave of my father. The next day I alone will take the train and subway downtown to visit the graves of the men and women of 9/11. And as I fly home, when I pass over Ohio, I’ll look down and remember my old friend who died too young.
On aging…today I think that the greatest song ever written was this one by John Prine. Maybe it’ll change tomorrow, or maybe not. Take a few minutes and listen. You probably have heard it before. But this time, remember those who have passed on before they ever had the opportunity to grow old. Or to die with dignity. Shut your eyes, think of the dead. And whisper…”hello in there”.