Friday, September 9, 2011

May Rest Come For The Weary

When I was in 8th grade my father died. Dad taught and was the fellow in charge of one of the two campuses that back in the day comprised the Wardlaw-Hartridge School. At the time Dad died, not only did he work there but Mom did as well. She was a secretary in the Development Department. Kara was only days away from graduating as a member of W-H's Class of 1981. Jill was a 10th grader. One might say that the Kennys were fairly heavily invested in Wardlaw-Hartridge. One might also say that the same rang true in the opposite direction also. Both are accurate.

Dad died on May 31, 1981. His death occurred so late in the school year that other than an announcment to the student body there was little official response to it prior to the close of the 1980-81 school year. While one might have expected that by the time school reconvened in September 1981, the moment for public mourning might have passed, one would have been wrong. With the best of intentions, the W-H community essentially declared the 1981-82 school year to be "The Year of Dad". The football team, whose season would end in a State championship, dedicated its season to him. Scoreboards were dedicated to him in the gymnasium. The yearbook was too. It was all very nice.

And it was all more than a bit overwhelming. Among the things that if I in fact possessed either a soul or a fully-developed heart I would have come to regret by this point in my life (more than three decades up the road) would be my reaction to it all. I chafed against the attention. I walked around with a brow that appeared to be nettled in perpetuity. By the end of the 1981-82 school year and the communal love fest I wanted to smash the scoreboards in the gym and burn all the yearbooks.

While I was far too self-absorbed then - and sadly only slightly less so now - to admit it, there was nothing at all extraordinary about what occurred in my life at age fourteen. Daily, too many people to count endure the death of an immediate family member. If the person who died had any connection at all to any community to which he and/or his family belong, then a certain percentage of the mourning process seems to belong to all as well.

It was a lesson I should have learned well in advance of Dad's death. I am Irish and therefore imbued with an innate sense of melancholy. It was Yeats after all who wrote, "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy." Genetics coupled with the fact that by the time I watched Mom bury Dad I had already borne witness to the two of them burying their parents and at least in Mom's case a couple of siblings should have prepared me better than it did. Everyone has a role to play I suppose. Mine was the jackass. Talk about typecasting.

I cannot speak for anyone else. I would not pretend to do so either here or elsewhere. I know that I cannot even begin to fathom how to respond to the murder of a loved one. I have never had to - and hope to Hell that I shall never have to - attempt to learn how. I do not know how the family members and loved ones of the 2,996 people murdered on September 11, 2001 have done it. The events of that day touched me only to the extent that they touched all Americans. Many with far more skin in the game than I sustained grievous, immeasurable losses. Their collective ability to carry on is - to me - nothing short of remarkable.

It strikes me as remarkable for while it is easy as an outsider to speak of the deaths on September 11, 2001 numerically (343, 2,996, etc.), it is disingenuous to do so. Individuals died. The death of each person impacted that person's loved ones separately and distinctly from the way in which the death of every other person impacted their loved ones. Regardless of its scope, mourning is an intimate, personal, perhaps even selfish process. To do it with the whole world watching requires grace. For a decade now, grace has been in full bloom. On display for all to see.

And it has indeed been an amazing sight.

-AK

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