As the ten year mark arrives of the awful tragedy of the loss of so many lives on September 11, 2001 in America, so much is being written about it and broadcast in the 21st century media about that terrible day, that it seems almost impossible that any sort of balanced perspective might result from all the fanfare surrounding this anniversary. No one who witnessed these events, nor anyone who was directly affected by the brutality of the attack could be diminished any more than they already have been by the suffering and sense of loss that took hold ten years ago. No report of previously “unrevealed” information or interviews with any of the key figures in the tragedy can change anything that happened, or lessen our collective and individual suffering in the slightest degree.
There are no truly useful comparisons to any of the other innumerable tragedies throughout human history that can make anyone who lost loved ones or friends in New York, Washington, or Pennsylvania on that day feel any less pain or somehow find solace no matter how many years have passed since those losses occurred. No matter what circumstances result in the loss of people we love, whether it is by a brutal attack by terrorists, or the relentless progress of a fatal disease, or the randomness of a freak accident, our losses throughout our lives cannot be measured in sound bytes or spectacular videos or eloquent prose.
At the very core of our humanity, complex molecules of DNA govern many of the outcomes for each human being, and are, in large part, responsible for how our lives unfold in innumerable ways, based on the endowment they provide or the deficiencies they impart as a result of the combined contributions of our parents and ancestors. There is nothing we can do as individuals to change our genetic or familial inheritance, or even the environment into which we are born. Countless successes and failures of individuals have resulted from not only our fortunate or unfortunate nature resulting from our genetic inheritance, but also from our abundant or deficient nurture from a loving and capable or sadly neglectful family circumstances. So many factors enter into the calculation of how we either flourish or fail to accomplish anything important in life, that we must acknowledge, at some point, our limitations as well as our abilities as central to our individual outcome.
Changing our perspective from the molecules of DNA, to casting our glance outward into the solar system in which our planet exists, provides an even greater view of our limitations as well as our potentials as living beings. If you follow this link by copying and pasting it into the address bar of your web browser, you will view a brief video of the passage of one year on earth from the perspective of outer space:
Looking at the earth as it passes through 365 days of existence in ten seconds, apart from being enormously fascinating as an experience, humbles us by its implications of how fragile and tenuous our existence is no matter what transpires here on the surface of the earth.
I can’t help it, though, when I look closely at the moments of pure awareness as I experience my own life, pondering the moments of my own existence, in the moments of serendipitous bliss and unexpected confusion or sadness, to view the replay of tragedy such as we will experience on Sunday, as well as those which surely will come in the days ahead, seems to me to be no more or less profound or tragic than any of the others in human history, but which are, more precisely, awful in their own way, unlike any other.
Walking along the sand and surf at Moore’s Beach on the Delaware Bay on my recent camping trip, I encountered this unfortunate turtle that apparently expired on its journey, and as I walked further along, encountered the remains of what used to be a home in what is now only a memory from years past.
No comparison can be drawn, nor is any intended, by these images to the sadness which fills every crevice of our memories of that awful day in September, and my own heart suffered terribly for years after that terrible day, as my only son served his country in military duty in response to that awful attack. My only hope is that we can find a way, somehow, to put each of the layers of our lives and our tenuous existence in the vast universe, in perspective as we look back on both the tragedy of September 11, 2001, as well as the moments of joy and sorrow that accompany us all on our journey.