Sunday, September 11, 2011

For everything (even 9/11) there is a season

As always, the arts were front and center during this morning’s televised tenth anniversary of trying to make sense of 9/11.

Performances by choirs and singer/songwriters and classical musicians punctuated the reading of the names at the Twin Towers memorial. Each of the politicians who spoke referenced a poem or a Biblical verse, which is another type of poetry. You might even say that the reading of the names is a very long epic poem. The readers themselves ended their recitations by remembering their loved one who died on 9/11. A short personal haiku amidst the epic poem.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani read the verse from Ecclesiastes that was put to song (“Turn, Turn, Turn”) by anti-war and environmental activist Pete Seeger in 1959 and made famous among non-Bible readers in 1965 by rock-era legends The Byrds.
Ecclesiates 3 1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
This only seems to emphasize the fact that, while poems and music and Biblical verses bring some comfort and understanding to tragedy, they don't seem to make grief any easier to bear. Sometimes they bring up issues that still desperately need to be faced.

After Giuliani’s speech, Paul Simon sang "The Sound of Silence" accompanied only by his guitar. Simon began composing the song after the Kennedy assassination. It became one of the standards of Simon & Garfunkel performances and nearly every young person alive in the sixties knew the words. This morning, Simon’s words and guitar chords echoed eerily off of the big buildings still under construction. His words argue that “silence like a cancer grows” and many prophetic warnings are gobbled up by the sounds of silence. Sounds a little bit like what we’ve seen the past 10 years in the U.S. The silence, however, is really the sounds of millions of screaming voices blaring out of the Tower of Babel worlds of the Internet and Cable TV.

The famous hymn “Amazing Grace” was performed by flautist Emi Ferguson. “Amazing Grace” was co-written by repentant slave ship sailor John Newton and renowned British poet William Cowper. It’s now performed often on bagpipes, notably at the funerals of fire fighters and soldiers. I heard many pipe band renditions of this standard over the weekend at the Scottish Irish Highland Festival in Estes Park.

It’s no namby-pamby verse. The author is crying out in anguish, thanking God’s “amazing grace” for saving “a wretch like me.” This takes humility. This takes courage. Something that we saw plenty of in those who gave their lives for others on 9/11/01.

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