September 11, 2004

Gather Up the Flowers

Wynd away the hours
Laid up to the sun
Hide behind Two Towers
When all the world's work is done

So it's that date again.

I've been making a point every year since to link to John M. Ford's poem "110 Stories," and so I do again. If there's a more fitting and appropo tribute to the events of that day three years ago, I haven't read it and don't expect to.

But this is the third anniversary, and I can't help but feel that there's a corrective needed to the awful way the events of September 11 are being used even now to cow and frighten and bully our country. Be cause in some terrible way, it seems they won: we're afraid now. For all the rumors of impending terrorist plots, no jihadist has really had to lift a finger since then to keep it that way, not when all it takes is a fresh Orange Alert or a new round of stump speeches from our fearless leader to remind us of how nervous we ought to be. And so the real tragedies of that bright morning three years ago have been appropriated by those who love the sword for its sharpness more than the thing it defends.

For all that I lived outside DC, I didn't feel like 9/11 had hit close to home until I learned that a friend of a friend had lost someone. Andy's longtime friend and mentor Donn Erik Marshall's wife Shelley was in the Pentagon - one more person who left on a busy morning and didn't come home. Though at the time I'd met Donn once, briefly, on a weekend eleven years prior - long before he met and married Shelley - it still felt like his loss made the tragedy real for me. For the first time, the shockwave of the impact touched me, the degree of separation so small, so small.

I had the opportunity to talk to Donn again two weekends ago, at Andy's wedding. (He looked like Morrissey fourteen years ago, and I was pleased to see he still does.) He carries his unimaginable loss and sadness with as much quiet strength and grace as I think a person can - more, I don't doubt, than I could in his place. He has two beautiful children who he adores. If the aftermath of 9/11 has produced heroes, he is one of them.

Donn's life is now dedicated to the Shelley Marshall Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds children's story hours, intergenerational tea parties, and creative writing contests and summer art programs for high school and college students. He's responded to an act of hate with equally fierce love, and devoted his time to cultivating a passion for words and stories and art in the young people who so desperately need it. In an age of war, Donn has made himself a warrior - for kindness, for compassion, for decency and beauty and humanity.

I sent the Foundation some money tonight. It wasn't much, and I wish I could have given more. But one of the lessons I think Donn wants to teach is that a lot of little acts of good can go a long way.

Here's the link to do a little good.

Set a life upon the way to bide
All that bodies become
Left alone along the lay to bind
All the mind has shunned

Gather up the flowers
Born up from the womb
Hasten lest they sour
A deed brought to the tomb

*The lines that open and close this post are from In Gowan Ring's "Two Towers" - which I should hasten to note was written long before the events of September 11, 2001. As B'eirth says in the liner notes of Hazel Steps Through a Weathered Home, "We, therefore, must maintain that the song is in no regard a conscious reflection of those events and any apparent analogy is either coincidental or mysterious." Indeed.

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