Memento Mori | 9/11 Revisited

by . Average Reading Time: about 6 minutes.

Windows on the World of Death

“I have watched through a window a World that is fallen.”
— W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare …
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

“Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together.”
— Susan Sontag

Hinduism 101

In Puranic myth the Lord of Death, in the guise of a little boy, instructs the grieving queens of a dead king: “You are all so foolish that you do not see your own inevitable death. Even if you cry for hundreds of years, you will never get him back, and in the meantime you will all die.”

Kid stuff — Hinduism 101.

In retrospect, it plays out like a Hitchcock movie, with ominous vignettes of individual lives failing to apprehend the impending implosion of a moment in September called 9/11. A month before the New York Times reviewed a “darkly comic novel, The Boomer, which opens with the birth of a baby boomer on a Friday and after a lifetime of excruciating banality ends in ‘a small, tidy cemetery with a view of the ocean.'”

While America’s literati amused itself with such self-deprecating, self-analysis, it celebrated the rebirth of the novel The Corrections, whose author, Jonathan Franzen, proffered:

There must be more story to life than, ‘the chemicals in my brain were bad — I fixed those chemicals’.

There is.

But the digital lifestyle of the Fast Food Nation was in full swing: stock splitin’, laptop totin’, SUV driving, Starbucks drinking, cell phones dangling — dexterous digitalists balancing life’s demands.

Things were looking up for a generation described alternately as “preening, self-congratulatory, cavilling solipsists,” or “a whiny, narcissistic bunch of paunchy, corporatized losers.” Of course, as the unbiased, objective, media would have it, none of this group worked at the World Trade Center — The Twin Towers of Greed and Exploitation.

MusloMayhem | Allah and Friends

Wired and mired in mortgage and debt — the noble struggle — reassuring ourselves of the necessity of going forward at an even more rapid pace, a major correction was imploding courtesy of Allah and Friends — MusloMayhem.

They began as calls for help, information, guidance. They quickly turned into soundings of desperation, and anger, and love. Now they are the remembered voices of the men and women who were trapped on the high floors of the twin towers.

From their last words, a haunting chronicle of the final 102 minutes at the World Trade Center has emerged, built on scores of phone conversations and e-mail and voice messages…. Rescue workers did not get near them. Photographers could not record their faces. If they were seen at all, it was in glimpses at windows, nearly a quarter-mile up.

Yet like messages in an electronic bottle from people marooned in some distant sky, their last words narrate a world that was coming undone. A man sends an e-mail message asking, “Any news from the outside?” before perching on a ledge at Windows on the World. A woman reports a colleague is smacking useless sprinkler heads with his shoe. A husband calmly reminds his wife about their insurance policies, then says that the floor is groaning beneath him, and tells her that she and their children meant the world to him.

No single call can describe scenes that were unfolding at terrible velocities in many places.… Neither can they described the fear, hopelessness and desperation. — The New York Times

Death is the inconsiderate, unapologetic, inexorable exploiter of bad timing — wrong time, wrong place. It cannot be perceived in the decision to go up the wrong staircase or the unsuspecting calm of someone about to be slaughtered. John Lennon observed, “Life is just what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So also death. Technology, government, employers, family and friends cannot exempt us from this inevitability.

For many the twin towers represented the pinnacles of achievement: the figurative/literal top of the world. For some they were a grotesque reminder of the soulless globalization juggernaut and the lopsidedness of inequality and underachievement in the world of exploitation. Life out of balance. Norman Mailer expressed another type of lament:

The World Trade Center was not just an architectural monstrosity, but also terrible for people who didn’t work there, for it said to all those people: ‘If you can’t work up here, boy, you’re out of it.’ That’s why I’m sure that if those towers had been destroyed without loss of life, a lot of people would have cheered. Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed.

We learned as Wall Street held a tearful, triumphant reopening within a matter of days, it was nothing more than a celebration of the ceaseless corporate rape of the citizenry — business as usual. We also learned the World Trade Center is not eternal. Neither is New York, America or the planet Earth. September 11 is a mutable date in the world of death of which man is an alien. And like those trapped in the World Trade Center, one day our karma will come to face us — surround us inescapably. Human life, however brief, is a window of opportunity offering liberation from this world of mortality.

The World of Experience Will Vanish

What to speak of this horrific atrocity,

The whole world of our experience will vanish one day, with the final wholesale dissolution but faith will remain, faithfully attending us. That is the innate thing with our soul. And with the wholesale dissolution of our body, mind, and senses, the whole world of our experience will go where? No one knows. The sun, the moon, the ether, the air — everything will vanish in wholesale dissolution. Only faith will live, even at that stage. Faith is eternal substance within us, and we are told that with the favorable circumstances of faith we can go back to God, back to home. Back to home sweet home! Such highest prospect is given to us who are in this world of mortality, which is a burial ground and cremation ground. Here, everything is bound to be buried.

This is the world of experience: everything leads but to the grave. But faith is not treacherous. It will remain within, with the soul, and grant hope, prospect, and sustenance. And what kind of sustenance? Home comfort. Back to God, back to home. When there is the proposal of such an alternative, who would be such a fool to run after the experiences of this ‘civilized’ atomic world?

Some persons are awake in the world of experience. Their day is the world of experience and their night is the soul’s world, God’s world. And another class of men are wakeful in the soul’s world and are sleeping in this world of experience. This world is darkness to them, and they are quite awake in the world of faith. They find that the world of faith is a permanent world.

The soul is wakeful there and is asleep in this world of experience, having no connection with it. And the man of the world of experience with flesh and blood, he is wakeful here, whereas that real world — the soul world — is like dark night to him.

The soul, however tiny, has a substantial position in eternity; it is an eternal factor in that world of faith. There, we shall find: “Whatever I see is eternal. Nothing will be effaced at any time. I am a member of the world of reality, and through faith I can reach such a subtle plane that never dies or changes. There is such a subtle, higher plane, and my soul is a member of that plane. — Swami B.R. Sridhar