Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I See Dead People

It'll come as news to nobody that today is the sixth anniversary of the occasion of a bunch of Islamic Martyrs, hopped up by the thoughts all those virgins they were going to get in Paradise, hijacking a bunch of planes and flying them, at flank speed, into the WTC, Pentagon and earth of western Pennsylvania, killing thousands of people.

I've already blathered here about my whereabouts and doings that day (I was in NYC - my brother and I engineered a breathtaking escape from the east side to the west side along 53rd street and fled north along the West Side Highway and out to New Jersey over the GW Bridge).

Others had breathtaking tales to tell of harrowing escapes from near certain death, or heartbreaking tales of personal losses. Not us, though. The biggest loss I experienced that day was the death of Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the FDNY. Not because he was a priest, nor because he was a chaplain. I mourned his loss because he was Irish (and proud of it), gay (and proud of it) and a recovering drunk like me (I was proud of that).

But it was later, on TV, in magazines and on the internet, that I got to see real close-up photos of deaths, either after the fact or as they were about to happen (i.e., shots of "jumpers" from the towers). Those deaths weren't particularly heroic, but rather horrifyingly desperate, born out of a total lack of any other available options.

It was not hard to develop a somewhat morbid fascination with the events of that day. They had funeral masses all day long, every day, for weeks on end at St. Patrick's Cathedral, just a few blocks south of my office building. I still smoked in those days and every time I went outside, there'd be ANOTHER funeral procession lining up to march down Fifth Avenue (I got real sick of bagpipes during this time and I usually love bagpipes).

Eventually, though, they ran out of body parts to mourn and bury, and the rawness of the events of that day faded (although it took weeks for the plumes of smoke from the great pit where the towers had stood to finally stop).

And then, somehow, six years went by.

Yesterday I took the day off to attend the funeral of a 2nd cousin in Philadelphia. Father Al was 81 and he'd been in poor health for some time. For me I didn't experience a sense of loss at his passing so much as I sensed that the last tenuous threads of that part of my family were coming undone. I became desperate to attend the funeral in order to try to reconnect with that part of my tribe.

I'm very glad I went. I saw my childhood sweetheart (yes, a girl... we were androgynous little things at age 8-9) and told her I was sober. She then confessed that her mother had died of alcoholism, along with the kid we played with across the alley AND his father. I spent a lot of quality time with relatives I never even knew I had. It was a long, exhausting day. I couldn't have imagined a nicer sendoff for Albert than for his extended family to get together to celebrate life.

It's nice to remember the dead, but I'd much rather celebrate the living.

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