My failure (and a poem)

Something happened this past weekend that I didn’t expect. Despite the buffer of ten years of life and the fact that I have absolutely no direct connection to the devastation of Sept. 11, 2001, I was overcome with emotion.

Just like those days ten years ago, I couldn’t pull away from the television. Not because I was waiting to see what happened next — we’ve all seen the same images and videos replayed over and over on the anniversaries — but because I was battling guilt. Guilt that I’d abandoned the resolve that gripped us all in weeks and months following the devastation. Guilt that I abandoned the memory we as a country swore would never be forgotten.

Personally, and as a citizen of this country, I’d have to say we’ve moved on.

By Monday, there were no more tears in the eyes of our politicians. They were already digging in for battle over a jobs bill.

In less than ten years, it seems to me that Sept. 11 transitioned from a national rallying cry to something to remember only once a year when the TV shows the minute-by-minute chaos of that day.

During these past ten years, I guiltily turned my focus from my nation and onto myself, my family, and my job. I’m told that’s natural. Unfortunately, I guess that’s the way of history.

I won’t sit here and make a promise to “never forget” because I’ve sadly broken that promise each year. I’d like to think of myself as better than that, but I’m not. As the promises made in the pew on Sunday are often forgotten by first light on Monday, the resolve fades.

I’m upset with myself for moving on. Not just from Sept. 11, but also from all of those pledges made during times of tragedy in my friends’ lives — promises to always be there, promises to never let the memory of a loved one die. How many times have we looked into someone’s eyes at a funeral and said: “Whatever you need, you just ask.” — only to think of them occasionally and find some excuse not to pick up the phone?

My wife, who lost her father when she was 16, has taught me that grief doesn’t simply go away for the mourner. A smell, a song, the way someone looks at you can release a flood of memories you’d thought you’d suppressed. She tells me that those people who rally around you during the most tender time of loss eventually go back to their lives. And you’re left alone. And when you really need them months and years later, it’s tough to ask. Again, it’s natural. But it’s sad.

I wrote a poem about this same thing several years ago and felt I should share it here. It’s from the point of view of the mourner. I picture this person staring out the window a few months following the loss of a loved one. The world is moving on; but, for the mourner, it seems an impossible task.


Zero hour


The world progresses without me,

mocking grief.


Pledges made at zero hour

evaporate as buds of April


in breeze, in sunshine

pushing through a veiled pane.


Pain, mine, frozen still

at zero hour

when pledges poured

from empathetic hearts

steeped in sadness brief.


Hearts are healed

by April bloom.


Not mine.


Not mine.


Fragile buds,

silky, susceptible to frost,

sing for renewal,

a soprano for spring.


I pray for silence.


I pray for healing.


I pray for freeze.


I wrote this in 2007 in response to a lecture in a poetry class. It challenges me. I pray I’m up for the challenge.

If someone you know has lost someone special, it might be time to pick up the phone.


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