Post 9-11 :: September 2001

Subject: The Dark Grey Shroud of Morning
Date: 9-17, 2001

Still reeling from the events of earlier this week, I was reading a community newspaper and saw that it annually sponsors one of those 'silly sentence' writing contests. You know, "Take this incongruous sentence and work it into a story of 5,000 words or less." While on my way into my office I was reflecting on this year's silly sentence and an image came to mind. So I ran with it.

Before you begin, please be warned. If I knew someone who had lost a friend or family member that day, I would not show this to them. It may strike a little close to home.

The silly sentence in question opens the story.

The Dark Grey Shroud of Morning

It must have been a significant blow to cause such a large crack in the toilet bowl.

It seems ridiculous now to have been thinking such a thing at the time. Of course it was a tremendous blow! I mean, the better thought would have been "How the hell did the thing survive the impact almost whole?" Or, had it been just a day ago that I'd seen it lodged there in its little crater, I might've asked, "How the hell did the thing get here?" I probably would've continued walking by without a backward glance, wondering which Soho artist was making an anti-capiltalist statement this time. But today, this morning, existence itself seemed such a non-sequitur that any questions I might ask of reality seemed already utterly divorced from it.

I'm not sure how long I'd been standing there. It must have been quite a while. Before that, I remember looking up and seeing the sullen grey cloud in the sky. The security guy at the front door warned me that it was really coming down, that I should run across the square for shelter. I remember running and running, that awkward run you're forced into when holding a briefcase over your head. But I don't remember stopping.

Yet there I was, standing before a broken bathroom fixture sunken nearly half into the flower bed, making absolutely insane statements about how a toilet that had obviously just fallen from a skyscraper could have gotten such a large crack in it.

What jerked me back to the larger insanity going on all around was the way the earth moved beneath me, followed by the peal of thunder. I looked up and saw the charcoal grey cloud descending

I don't know if somewhere inside I realised that running wasn't going to change my fate. I'm trying to recall what I felt like at the time. How can you put into words the unfathomable? An entire building was crashing down around me but the whole world had already done that less than an hour ago. Nothing made sense anymore. It wasn't chaos - chaos is something. I don't know. Blankness? Reality wiped out altogether. Reason annihilated.

Maybe I could save myself from one certainty but what certainty would I be running to? What was my choice, really? The darkness descending from above? Or that other darkness that had already descended beyond it in the sunlit streets? I don't know. Some decision had already been made, deep inside.

So I think even if there had been an option for escape; even if friends and family were beckoning me into safe shelter a couple steps away I might've done the same thing. I didn't have much time, but it seemed possible I could make sense of one thing: how a block of porcelain could fall nearly a hundred stories and suffer only a single long crack. I mean, physics and probability should be able to explain it. You'd think.

And if I could come up with that one thing, a rational explanation for that one question, then maybe I could solve more difficult ones, like how it was that the toilet bowl survived the blast as the airliner smashed into the building. Maybe then... Maybe then, I could move onto more disturbing lines of thought, like what the bloody hell was an airliner doing flying into the side of a skyscraper anyway? Not even just one, but two on the same sunny morning in September. Why would something like that happen? How? What kind of world was I living in?

A dark grey shroud of madness was enveloping me, nullifying everything. So I dropped my briefcase and bent down for a closer inspection. But as I did it grew so dark I could barely see the bowl, and by the time I reached out to touch it, it wasn't even there anymore.

Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, spoke eloquently and passionately at last Friday's memorial on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In particular he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. noting that in times of crisis it's "not the words of our enemies that are remembered but the silence of our friends.."

I've been silent for a long while, my friends. No longer. To help bolster us for what is to come, I'll leave you now with Lao Tze's, Tao Te Jing

Chapter 31

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.



The International Day of Mourning