Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lux Aeterna

or In Memoriam

September 11, 2011

Frankly, I wish today weren't a posting day.  Light-hearted wordplay doesn't seem appropriate, any more than a blithe glance at a flower or two, but tackling 9/11 seems impossible.  Everything I've tried to write has either been soppily emotional or party-line political; the former is self-indulgent ten years later, and the latter inadequate to the horror of that day and the unknowns that followed it. 

But it is a posting day.  In the midst of relentless—and moving—media coverage, I've found myself thinking not so much about September 11 as about September 12, 2001.  The 12th was the third day of a new semester, and I didn't know how, or why, in the aftermath of that devastation I was going to walk into a 9:00 class and teach a music history lesson on Gregorian chant.  The whole thing seemed irrelevant to the point of being grotesque.  The day before students had been weeping (oh, what an inadequate word for their grief and fear) on the main quad:  many had friends, brothers, parents working in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, some of whom had lost their lives.  And I was going to be talking about 1,000 year old music in Latin, with no harmony, no particular rhythms, and tunes you couldn't hum in scales you didn't know.  How could that possibly matter to anyone post-9/11?  For those first days, priorities had been reduced to their bare bones.  Life.  Death.  Safety.  Solace.  Not "enrichments" like long-dead musical styles.

What I eventually came up with, what allowed me to meet my own eyes in the mirror that day, was the knowledge that discussion is the life's blood of a civilized society.  The study of music, painting, literature, is only about three parts fact to seven parts opinion.  No matter what you present in class, you are always bumping up against differences in taste.  Somewhere between the cowardly white-washing of "everyone's entitled to her own opinion" (end of conversation) and the arrogance of "your ideas are stupid, because they're not mine" (end of conversation), lies the middle ground of engagement, where evidence is weighed, reasoning tested, ideas traded, minds stretched.  The arts, I thought, teach us to have those conversations, to respect well-grounded differences.  They teach us to be civilized.  They teach us how to live with one another in peace.

The last ten years have not borne out that bit of wishful thinking; the long-term reaction to a trauma can be as damaging as the original crisis.  "Help me to understand your reasoning" is a phrase that seems to have disappeared from this polarized, entrenched society, along with reasoning—the common-sense, open-minded weighing of evidence—in general.  Still, the idea of 9/11 as "A Day of Service and Remembrance" seems to be gaining ground.  Perhaps that means we're beginning to get out of the trenches, to reach out.  Perhaps we're beginning to heal not only from the vicious wounds inflicted by terrorists but from the subtler ones we've visited on ourselves.


6:46 a.m. Mountain Time, 8:46 a.m.  Eastern Time, September 11, 2011

In memory of those who died on September 11, 2001 and in its aftermath:
  • 2,977 in the attacks, representing more than 90 countries and all major faith traditions, 403 of whom were first responders
  • 7,503 American and coalition forces in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • an estimated 13,375-33,000  Afghan civilians (conflict-related deaths)
  • an estimated 100,000-650,000 Iraqi civilians (conflict-related deaths)

From the Gregorian Mass for the Dead:
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,May eternal light shine on them, O Lord,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,with Thy saints for ever,
quia pius es.because Thou art merciful.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,Grant the dead eternal rest, O Lord,
et lux perpetua luceat eis,and may perpetual light shine on them,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,with Thy saints for ever,
quia pius es.because Thou art merciful.


  1. Thank you for a beautiful post, and for recognizing *all* who have suffered. This thing reaches far beyond our own shores, and that fact has been little told in what I have read/heard in the past week.

  2. I agree with Zoe, we are all God's children.

  3. What a beautiful September 11 photograph. I have been reluctant to participate in the coverage of remembrance for reasons I can't articulate. But perhaps it's related to what you said about the rarity of real engagement in discussion. The last thing I want to hear is sloppy sentimentality or hateful remarks related to 9/11. The only hope is in people responding with love and trying harder to connect as humans. We need a cycle of love, not perpetual war and hate. I appreciate the statistics you included about how many more people have died in Afghanistan and Iraq ...

  4. Is it not amazing how the day began, but it ended like no other in the history of our country. Thank you for the 'numbers' not usually shown together. As per what you say that does not offend any one, those days are gone too. Everyone is not entitled to an 'opinion' of hate and destruction. Free speech is abused to incite in this country and abroad. It would be great to have a Polyanna, 1960's version of peace and brotherly love for all human kind, outlook to the future of living side by side in peace, but that has not occurred before and is unlikely to occur in the future. Just look at the strife throughout the world today. The trust appears to be gone.

  5. It is such a difficult topic to grapple with. It was clearly an abominable act of terrorism; that much I think we can all agree on, but how does one even begin to talk about the consequences for the international discourse in the following decade?

    My mind struggles to even begin to put all the different pieces together in a whole image; they all jar against each other and disallow a coherent narrative.

    I do find, though, that the memorial itself - for that at least I can look at objectively - is beautiful and fitting. The void becomes tangible, the shapes of the flowing water take on a gruesome aspect while remaining pretty, the names listed not alphabetically but by an attempt at recreating personal links. It could have been just another national monument, but instead the architects have come up with a bold way of giving a voice to the events of that day that certainly touched me.

  6. I have listened to Gregorian chant for years. The piece you picked out is perfect.

  7. Zoe and b-a-g, I would like to see us expand our peripheral vision in general…

    Sheila, I certainly understand your reluctance. I thought long and hard about posting on another topic and then kept remembering those students trying to come to grips with the death of loved ones—the immediacy of their losses—and just couldn’t. Something that struck me about this year’s observances more than earlier ones is a tone of assessment; maybe we’re distanced enough to have less of a “fight-or-flight” perspective.

    Donna, even setting my own politics aside, I’ve never seen so many people get so much air-time before who were just plain wrong—I mean, whose facts are wrong, whose “knowledge” is out-and-out incorrect. In contrast, I did a stint of jury duty a while ago, and it was amazing to hear people reasoning through cases. The whole process worked exactly the way it’s supposed to. It was the most encouraging thing I’d seen in years, and it all happened below the media radar. I’m beginning to be very up in arms with the media in general—I think most ordinary folks are still carrying on in sensible ways, except when they’re fed a bunch of misinformation dressed up as news. Sorry—kind of a parallel rant to yours, but I think they’re related.

    Søren, yes—I keep finding myself reduced to platitudes, just because they’re easy to cling to and they get at little bits of the truth, even though they leave out more complex and vital ones.

    The architects’ sensitivity to mood and symbol and beauty has really created something meaningful—a real memorial, as you say, and not just a monument. I’m pleased that the families were able to visit it together privately before it was opened to the public.

    Baffled, I’m glad to hear that—choosing the music wasn’t easy. I hesitated a lot between chant/later Requiems and then between recordings to find something with that kind of direct simplicity. Thank you.

  8. That you remember the 12th, reminds me life goes on. First responders ... I read, just after a post on England's coast guards. Thinking too of fire fighters in Texas. We, presume there will be services in an emergency. Sometimes we forget, those services, have names and faces and families.

  9. Stacy, Thanks for grappling with this in such a brave and thoughtful way. -Jean

  10. These are profound observations, and your students were lucky to have you as their teacher on those days following 9/11. I hope and pray for peace often and wish we all could see the bigger picture instead of doting on the smallest of differences.

  11. Diana, one of my high school friends is now a fire chief in Louisiana. I read his posts on FB and begin to realize how much is always at risk for first responders. We presume emergency services will always be available--and forget that they are provided by people who choose every day if necessary to put their lives on the line.

    Jean, I'm glad you found it meaningful.

    Michelle, I'm afraid at the time I was close to being an emotional wreck... We too often forget how much unites us in our angry obsession with differences.