I say all of that because of the date. Today is not any given Sunday; it is a day that has become sacred and terrible. For some it is a transformative day, a memorial day, a day to justify one or another set of political beliefs. But it's also a day full of people being people, full of people loving each other.
Rabbi David Levinsky and I were talking about how rarely we find, even 10 years later, a 9/11 commemoration or response that stirs our heart, that doesn't resolve itself in pablum, in treacle, in maudlin words that give neither comfort nor challenge us meaningfully. Scott Simon, in a blog this past week, probably comes close (thanks to Rachael Bregman for sharing it with me). But I think for some, it is still too raw, too soon. And for others, well, how can you watch children playing and learning and not think the world full of blessing? The desire to put it in the past is strong.
In that blog post by Simon, he shared a poem by WH Auden, written when World War II broke out. In some ways, it speaks better to that moment than anything written as a direct response. So I (RE)share it with you in the hopes that it brings meaning.
I sit in one of the divesOn Fifty-second StreetUncertain and afraidAs the clever hopes expireOf a low dishonest decade:Waves of anger and fearCirculate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,Obsessing our private lives;The unmentionable odour of deathOffends the September night. Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offenceFrom Luther until nowThat has driven a culture mad,Find what occurred at Linz,What huge imago madeA psychopathic god:I and the public knowWhat all schoolchildren learn,Those to whom evil is doneDo evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knewAll that a speech can sayAbout Democracy,And what dictators do,The elderly rubbish they talkTo an apathetic grave;Analysed all in his book,The enlightenment driven away,The habit-forming pain,Mismanagement and grief:We must suffer them all again. Into this neutral airWhere blind skyscrapers useTheir full height to proclaimThe strength of Collective Man,Each language pours its vainCompetitive excuse:But who can live for longIn an euphoric dream;Out of the mirror they stare,Imperialism's faceAnd the international wrong. Faces along the barCling to their average day:The lights must never go out,The music must always play,All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assumeThe furniture of home;Lest we should see where we are,Lost in a haunted wood,Children afraid of the nightWho have never been happy or good. The windiest militant trashImportant Persons shoutIs not so crude as our wish:What mad Nijinsky wroteAbout DiaghilevIs true of the normal heart;For the error bred in the boneOf each woman and each manCraves what it cannot have,Not universal loveBut to be loved alone. From the conservative darkInto the ethical lifeThe dense commuters come,Repeating their morning vow;"I will be true to the wife,I'll concentrate more on my work,"And helpless governors wakeTo resume their compulsory game:Who can release them now,Who can reach the deaf,Who can speak for the dumb? All I have is a voiceTo undo the folded lie,The romantic lie in the brainOf the sensual man-in-the-streetAnd the lie of AuthorityWhose buildings grope the sky:There is no such thing as the StateAnd no one exists alone;Hunger allows no choiceTo the citizen or the police;We must love one another or die. Defenceless under the nightOur world in stupor lies;Yet, dotted everywhere,Ironic points of lightFlash out wherever the JustExchange their messages:May I, composed like themOf Eros and of dust,Beleaguered by the sameNegation and despair,Show an affirming flame.