Sunday, September 11, 2011

What is in a name?

It was hard to listen to the names of those killed in the 9/11 attacks being read at the site of the World Trade Center this morning. The readers were people who'd lost a loved one - wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, friends. Some of the readers were stoic, some in tears. But each name was read with the solemnity and gravitas it deserved.

It was particularly moving to see the reaction to the names engraved around the fountains in the footprints of the towers. The tears, the distress was just heart-breaking. Mothers and fathers traced the letters of the names of children with their fingers. Flowers and little flags were wedged into the engravings. Many people made rubbings of their loved one's name. Each letter of each name so precious. Each name representing a life - the joy, the quirks, the laughter, the day-in/day-out responsibilities, the love - of a single person who is no longer around to hug, toil beside, share a drink, walk the extra mile.

A firefighter in uniform sat in front of me at the 11:00 service at St. John the Divine. I noticed he had a small laminated picture of someone that he held in his hands and took with him when we went up for Communion. That struck me so hard. I didn't personally know anyone who died, but this firefighter did. My prayers were for this man's loved one. After the service I asked him about it. It was a dear friend, he said, and showed me the metal bracelet he wears engraved with his friend's name. The man said he came to the Cathedral every anniversary in honor of his friend. His faithfulness and devotion were inspiring.

I cried my way through the closing hymn, O God Our Help in Ages Past, just as I cried my way through it 10 years ago when we sang it at All Saints' in Atlanta. I do believe that we must move toward the future rather than dwell on the horrors of the past. But when people say get over it and move on, I think of my own tears and emotions. I did not lose a loved one. The names being read are all strangers to me. And yet, tears. I cannot fathom the profound sadness that the families and friends bear, yes, even 10 years later.

Each name is precious. Each name being read aloud. Each name etched in stone. Each name carried on a card tucked inside the dress cap of a firefighter. Each and every name.

What is in a name? An entire life. That's what's in a name.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Answer to World Peace

An afternoon cartoon break. So simple, why haven't we thought of it before?

Our department has a big screen TV monitor that usually showcases the new website we're creating. My little office is directly across from the monitor, which has led to my pleas of showing cartoons in the afternoon to liven things up a bit. Well, today, my request was honored.

To the delight of all, the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" rang out into all the nooks, crannies, and cubbies of our 4th floor offices. Lots and lots of laughter ensued for, oh, 7-8 minutes. And then it dawned on me. If everybody would just take a short, afternoon cartoon break (with ensuing laughter), I can't help but think world peace would take over.

Normally, "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!" set to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries wouldn't bring world peace to mind. Except when Elmer Fudd is singing it. Impossible to wage war and foment hate when tears of laughter are rolling down your face.

So there. I've solved it. I'll await my Nobel Peace Prize. "Kill the wabbit!"

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I Have a Little List

How much do the little lists we make, day in and day out, reveal about us? A grocery list, a to-do list, a list of what you want to sell at your garage sale, a list of books you want to read, a list of expenses. Think about it. If you kept all the little scraps of paper and Post-It notes, what would those little bits say about what is important - maybe not important, but necessary - to you?

The Morgan Museum & Library has a fascinating exhibition about Lists.

Yesterday, I got to spend a wonderful afternoon at the Morgan with friend Barbara from Atlanta, finally getting to drink in the newly-renovated opulence of J.P. Morgan's library, books, works of art, which were all off limits the last time I was there. Another exhibition explored medieval dress and fashion. (Did you know the two "horns" medieval women piled their hair into and draped with scarves were call "temples"? Me, neither.)

But it was the collection of lists from the Smithsonian that proved the most fun to poke through:

"The exhibition celebrates this most common form of documentation by presenting an array of lists made by a broad range of artists, from Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder to H. L. Mencken, Eero Saarinen, Elaine de Kooning, and Lee Krasner. With examples such as Picasso's picks for the great artists of his age (Gris, L├ęger, etc.), H. L. Mencken's autobiographical facts ("I never have a head-ache from drink"), and Robert Smithson's collection of quotations about spirals, the items on view are intriguing, revealing, humorous, and poignant."

OK, so you can see where even the shopping list of a famous person might be interesting, but looking deeper, these lists really reveal a lot about the list-maker. Lists tell us about priorities. Priorities of time, money, attention, passion. Some of the lists are official - a list of teapots (in the form of drawings) for an art exhibition or an accounting of a sales receipt. Some are ordinary and personal - likes, dislikes, things to do today, things to buy at the grocery or hardware store. But all the lists boil down to priorities. What's important. What comes first. What must be done.

Are you a list-maker? I am. And even in this age of making lists and taking notes electronically on a smartphone, I still find a hand-written list the most efficient and easiest to access.

So, what do your "priorities" say about you? Mine obviously say I really need mayonnaise and milk. Priorities, dear. Priorities. Thank goodness, I have a little list.