Thoughts of Death on September 11
I’ve been watching President Bush lay wreaths all over the place today and this is what came to my mind, so I decided to share it:
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
(I’ve decided that Bush is perhaps as good a Mourner in Chief as Reagan and Clinton were. While I am not as big a fan of either Reagan or Bush as I am Clinton, they were actually pretty good when national tragedies hit. It’s in the aftermath I don’t trust Bush and didn’t trust Reagan.)
I looked the poem up on the web and found it has an interesting history. It was written in 1932 by Mary Frye. A friend of hers was lamenting that she could not be at her mother’s bedside while she died, nor go to her grave. The friend, Margaret Schwarzkopf, was Jewish and her mother lived in Germany. She said she was denied the right to 'stand by her mother's grave and shed a tear'. The words to this poem just came to Ms. Frye and she wrote them on a brown paper sack, or so the story goes. Later, friends of the Schwarzkopf family had the poem printed on postcards (not an uncommon way of publishing such things in earlier years), so the poem, which was untitled, got into common usage.
There are many versions of the poem, some with additional words, but the version I’ve quoted above is the one that appeared on the postcards. It is also the words to a song my church choir has sung and is the version I prefer.
I thought of this when I considered the propensity of humans to want to be at the site of a grave or where a death occurred on the anniversary of the death, especially at the exact time of death. I think it’s quite human and normal. Do spirits hang around after death, around the spot of their death, around favorite places, or around loved ones? I don’t know for sure. Being a believer in reincarnation, I suspect that, especially in the first few years after a death, a soul will “visit” their loved ones. It is not necessary to be at a graveside or a place of death or near the anniversary of the death to feel their presence. Really, if you want to, just open your mind and heart and think of them. Invite them in. I know I strongly felt my dad’s presence on Father’s Day this year, during the service at my church. The minister said something, I don’t remember what, and I briefly felt his presence. My dad has been dead more than 20 years and certainly had never set foot in the building my church is housed in. But I welcomed his loving presence at that time; I rarely feel his presence like that, though I’ve never doubted his affection.
So what is it that draws us to gravesides and places where death occurs? I believe that souls and their experiences have energy and that the energy can imprint itself on physical places. I believe that when people see ghosts, mostly what they’re seeing is the energy left by a particular event. And at a place where many people died at basically the same time, there’s a lot of energy left by that. That’s part of what makes certain places sacred. (Other kinds of energy work can do the same thing.) So the field in Pennsylvania, the south side of the Pentagon, and Ground Zero in New York all became sacred ground. And, as Abraham Lincoln implied in the Gettysburg Address, our continued belief in those hallowed places adds to the sacred feeling.
Plus, I suspect that when a survivor goes to the field in Pennsylvania and wants to be there on September 11 at the time the plane crashed, it feels as if they’re somehow closer to their loved one at their death, even if it is five years removed. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it feels true in human nature. (Which, to some extent, *makes* it true.)
But, as the poem I started out with suggests, we can be in contact with the spirits of our loved ones in many different times and places as well. For example, it does not dishonor my parents that I do not visit their graves or place flowers there. I either honor them in my heart or I don’t. OTOH, if it helps someone to visit a graveside or a place of death, there’s surely nothing wrong with that!
Anyway. I didn’t particularly want to do the standard “today is September 11, so let’s talk about that day and where we are now, etc., etc.” There’s enough of that around. (I’m already pretty damned sick of hearing how wonderful Bush is being and how close to tears he and Laura clearly are, etc. Even if I did sort of add to it.) This is what I thought of.
Back to knitting.