Good lord! The counter says this is my 501st post. What a blowhard I am–or was, anyway. Since I started using Facebook, I’m down to just one or two posts a month.
Last night the president assured us that our security is his number one priority. This morning I woke up and realized it’s 9/11 again, a reminder that nothing as elusive as our safety can be ever be guaranteed, not by the biggest and best-funded army in the world, by super-powered listening devices and predator drones, by militarized policemen, or even by semi-state-subsidized doctors.
Here’s another reminder: Yesterday, I was walking down 2nd Avenue when two people rolling a gurney cut across the sidewalk right in front of me. I looked around for an ambulance and didn’t see one–and then I realized that the gurney was occupied by someone wrapped head-to-toe in sheets. “A delivery,” I thought, and sure enough, they wheeled it through the front door of a funeral home.
The last time I saw something like that happen I was also in the East Village. It was about 20 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with my older son. I worried at the time that it was a bad omen for a corpse to cross your path, but the thought hardly crossed my mind yesterday. Both of my parents and many other older (and some younger) relatives have died in the intervening years. I’ve figuratively buried more than one friendship, and literally buried more than one friend.
I’ve told a story on this blog about an exchange I had with a colleague at a publishing lunch in the first days after 9/11, when we could still see the smoke rising from the bottom of Sixth Avenue and smell it when the wind was just right. “This isn’t new to me,” she told me. “This is what it felt like when I learned I had cancer. Only I had to deal with that all by myself.”
If 9/11 taught us anything, it should have taught us that death recognizes no privileges; that we are all equals in its eyes. It should have taught us to count our blessings, and maybe to be a little less selfish in our dealings with our neighbors, corporately and individually. But it’s been 13 years and too many of us are just as cowardly and narrow and narcissistic as ever. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the human condition.