In Memoriam: September 11, 2001

Eight-Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly By Melanie Reynolds

On this day twenty years ago I was an American Red Cross Volunteer in Seattle, WA. For three days I jockeyed phone calls connecting stranded airport passengers to hotel lodging, vital medication refills, and other services. I triaged panicked callers who urgently told me, “My husband/ wife/ daughter/ son/ mother/ father/brother/sister was supposed to be on Flight xyz.”

I had a copy of the passenger manifest lists. For many I could assure them their loved one’s name was not on the list. For six people I had to put them on hold saying I would “check”, but I’d already memorized the names on the passenger lists. Instead I was ringing a Counselor to say, “This person’s loved is on one of the manifests.” Then I patched the two call together so that the Counselor could break the news to them, while I continued taking the next call until the flood became a trickle.

We lost one of our own in the following weeks. Linda Johnson, who traveled to New Jersey to help in the coordination efforts collapsed and died as she was returning to her hotel with other Red Cross volunteers. She had helped numerous people throughout her life. She had a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education. She worked for the Red Cross as a full-time employee as an Instructor and Administrator, then “retired” so she could volunteer to be deployed on field assignments. She made three trips to Puerto Rico after hurricanes, deployed to Florida and Kentucky after floods, provided earthquake relief in California and assisted in the Philippines after an eruption of Mount Pinatubo. I didn’t know her very well personally. She was there during two of my training courses before I became the Newsletter Manager. I do know that she loved her family and she loved helping others. I keep a copy of that September Newsletter to remember her and how all of our lives changed after that event

In 2004 I would go to India and meet a woman who lost her sister in the South tower. My presence seemed to help her in her journey towards healing. She felt as if her sister were beside us as we talked about that day. I do believe healing is a journey. You have to be patient and kind with yourself. It’s like physical therapy for your heart. You have to re-learn to take small steps before you can walk again.

Spirits In The Wind

Photo by Raine Nectar on Pexels.com

When you hear the wind but don’t feel it, it’s magical, like spirits who have chosen to tousle the high leaves on the trees but not your hair. It’s within that absence of presence that a nature-led person can find a new awareness. Does the wind have a mind of its own? What does it mean to be in possession of a mind in the first place?

The “mind” of a human consists of two parts, the physical brain riding around at the control center of our meatsuits and the spiritual mind that connects the conscious and unconscious rhythms to our soul. Physic law: Energy is neither created nor destroyed. We are made of energy, as much as we are of blood and muscle. Our synapses fire, we are alive! What happens when our synapses fail to fire? Are we dead in a way that we no longer exist? But we are still made of energy, right? Our body may die, but I don’t believe that we, “the conscious self “, dies. We only become untethered from this mortal suitcase.

I could tell you that I’ve seen and heard people after they’ve died, but then your logical brain will tell you I must be crazy and now I’ve become an unreliable narrator. So here’s Carl Jung who says it beautifully in a way I hope you can feel.

At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is nothing in the Tower that has not grown into its own form over the decades, nothing with which I am not linked. Here everything has its history, and mine; here is space for the spaceless kingdom of the world’s and the psyche’s hinterland.

Carl G. Jung

Joe and I got along well. We met through a mutual friend. He owned a pub a block down the street from my apartment. We were all taking Network Administration courses at the local community college. Where once “plastics” were the future, we now knew it to be computers. We waxed poetically between beers about man and machines. Then I saw it. Joe with his body sitting, but his spirit standing behind him. He was consciously preserving the moment, capturing the memory with his mind. He’d be taking a trip soon. This was his way of pocketing a snapshot within his conscious mind.

The group decided to move off to somewhere else, maybe another pub, maybe a jam session in Jason’s basement. People who like playing with computers also like trying to make instruments sing. I prefer to be a heartbeat that keeps time and melts into the background. I like to fade in and out of the peripheral. The inference- the spaces in-between- is where I can most often be found. Sometimes I pick up a shaker egg, or tambourine, but it’s the hand drums that often call me out. I used to be part of drum circle. Few things are sadder to me than the idea of a drum circle of one. Not much of a circle then, is it? If I’m an echo of call and response, then asking me to reverberate off myself sounds hollow.

I made lame excuses about why I had to ride with Joe and no one else. I said it was because I wanted to listen to Bach instead of Def Leopard and I wanted those warm heated-leather seats (which was also true, because it was bitterly cold that night.) He was the only one of us that was a real adult with actual adult things like a house he owned, a long-term relationship, and a car that wasn’t older than him by necessity. He’d been a successful day trader who’d exited right before the dotcom bust. Now he was dying.

As Joe pulled out of the parking lot, I asked him how long he had to live and what he was dying from. He was visibly taken aback, side-eyed me for a moment then focused back on the road. “Pancreatic cancer, maybe nine months, but probably two.” He said. “How did you know?”

“I saw you taking pictures with your mind. You were capturing the moment as if to take some piece of us with you.” I said. “I’ve been around death long enough to know when someone’s checking out of Hotel Corporeal.” He laughed, then told me not to tell any of the others. I argued profusely. His long-time, live-in girlfriend didn’t even know! “Don’t make me sit on this.” I begged. “Give them a chance to say Goodbye!” I complained. He wouldn’t hear of it, he thought maybe their anger would help them through the pain, but more than that, he didn’t want them looking at him with pity. I felt that.

There was a time when I was young. I had a lot of pride until my innocence was violently taken in shame. It wasn’t the act itself that devastated me so much. In fact, had there been no witnesses I likely could have flushed the memory into a mnemonic blackhole, but there were witnesses. When those who had seen what happened turned away from me with pity in their eyes, something broke within me. I found only blinding rage for solace. My face was hot and red, my vision was colored red and my body worked itself into shades of back and blue. In my raw anger I saw only myself and attributes I felt need to be fixed. Pride turned to judgement. I became a nihilistic hunter of knowledge.

The power within you is the power of knowing what you’re capable of. I trained to be faster, smarter, and stronger than everyone else around me. I siphoned knowledge like everyone else was a sieve. I created. I destroyed. I manipulated. I sacrificed. I took from some and gave to others. I don’t believe we are made in any gods reflection; they are made of us. Their stories reflect the human experience. We file them down into digestible components of virtues, parables, and chapter books as teaching tools. We are the gods and like the stories I learned temperance through age.

So here I was, many years later riding with a dying man who doesn’t want anyone to look at him with pity in their eyes. He died roughly two weeks later. I never said a word. You can’t pity him now. He was seen, but also heard and that’s one less hungry ghost to worry about.

What is he thinking when he plays in the wind? When he refuses to mess with my hair? In that space of absence, the known spirit says, “I am here.”

Pride Post: We’re all just people…or cosmic sand

When I was younger I used to say I could fall in love with anyone. That maybe my perfect mate was an alien and we just hadn’t met yet. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was signaling through dialog that I had an open mind. This often led to fascinating conversations with people who felt they could talk to me about anything without feeling judged. For a long time, it felt like a superpower, but now I understand that what we say and how we say it is an important part of expressing the dimensions within ourselves.

I initially grew up in a rough neighborhood, in a rough city. I learned that if you weren’t tougher than your adversaries, you better be faster and if you weren’t faster, you better be smarter. I was top dog at my elementary school. I had a friend with albinism and a friend in wheelchair. No one joked or harassed them in any way because I would kick their ass if they did. I could sweep a boy off his feet and step on his neck until he begged for mercy. I was badass. I had also learned Martial Arts from library books. My friend in the wheelchair died. I couldn’t fight the fragility of her body, only admire the spirit of her soul.

My mom and I moved right before the start of middle school. We moved into the rich kid school district. I was not the top dog. I was a poor kid, a loser, “rough around the edges” and ostracized. Slowly I started to make friends with the other kids that were also ostracized either for being poor or different in some other way. I wanted to beat up my antagonizers but all it did was get me sent to the principal’s office. Message received; I was the problem. So instead of retaliating I withdrew from reacting at all. I became a dispassionate observer of the human psyche. These rich kids: they fight with words, they fight with posturing, they fight with their network of resources available to them, but most of all, they tightly guard their weakness. They sit atop their mounds of freshly hidden bones.

To my mother’s chagrin I went from Country girl to Goth girl overnight. You treat me as different; I’ll show you what different looks like. I went back to the books. I read philosophy, books about competitive mindsets in sports training, business books about negotiating, mythology, folklore, and so on, and so on. I learned to fight with words, but more then that, I learned how to uncover their bones/weaknesses. I became an “other” like no other. My adaptions made me a sought-after commodity. Students and teachers alike sought me out for advice. I built up trust. I listened to secrets and never repeated a one. I demonstrated that being different didn’t mean being scary. As I got older; I let go of being everyone’s defender and gave them tools to fend for themselves. I learned that rich kids have problems too. I learned that everyone feels like they have something to hide. I learned that a lot of us are learning to adapt to survive in a way that reconciles how we feel with who we are.

My first love was an unrequited love. I couldn’t make him love me. I was floored when a friend confessed that she loved me as I loved him. I was sad and angry. Not at her, but at the situation. She said we couldn’t be friends anymore because it was too painful for her. I bitterly understood. Later that week, I too severed my friendship with the guy I adored because it was too painful for me. That was a shitty week. I lost two good friends and learned that sometimes you have to let love go.

A few years later I moved to Seattle. In 1998, I joined the march and vigil for Matthew Shepard. I didn’t know him. I only knew that he had been killed for being openly gay. Tortured and let to freeze to death in a field out in the middle of Wyoming. I thought about how scared he must have been and that he could have been a friend. It was a terrible reminder that there are still places in the world less tolerant of people being different.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes I play too rough, or say stupid and insensitive things, but I also don’t keep quiet or back down when I see someone experiencing pain, hate or threats of violence because of who they are. I don’t have to embody the characteristics of every individual I meet to understand what it feels like to be rejected, hated, or ignored. What is it you fear when you see someone who is different from yourself?

Humanity cycles through the same age-old questions over and over. “Know Thyself” while attributed to Socrates is expressed in nearly every edict or doctrine throughout various religions. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with them?” Maybe the better question to ask is “Why does their difference upset me?” Why is it so hard to live and let live? None of us have been granted a divine right to be judge, jury and executioner over the lives of others. If you don’t like something or chose not to participate in it, it’s okay to say, “It’s not for me.”

Having sex with another woman, is not for me. Encroaching on another person’s autonomy, is not for me. I’m happy I’m not the center of the universe. I’m happy that I’m a small speck of sand in a greater community of….sand…people. I had my first existential crisis at age 13. The summer camp counselor told us to go around the circle and answer the question, “Who am I?” I panicked as I listened to the other girls go before me. Who…am…I? Why is this such a tough question? Megan defined herself as a girl who liked to ride horses and jump rope. Angel likes to paint because she thinks everything should be pretty. So are we defined by what we do? Are we defined by what we think? “I think, therefore I am? “  I am, I am what? By the time it was my turn I burst into tears and said, “I don’t know.” I ran out the door, barefoot through the woods, across the fallen log, and onto the small granite island at the edge of the lake where only the moon and stars could comfort me. I stayed all night. I’d like to say I was wiser the next morning, but I wasn’t. I was only committed to wanting to explore who I was with who I felt I ought to be. That journey still continues to this day.

We stand at the precipice of a new global event not seen in the history of humankind. We’ve had mini-ice ages in the past, but nothing like the global warming event coming on the horizon. Our modernized civilizations are already beginning to adapt both consciously and unconsciously to the future. Why should it be so wrong that some people within our societies find love among their own gender? Or seek to validate their body image when it doesn’t correlate with their conscious self? I have yet to meet a person who was content to live and die as a mayfly. (To live only to reproduce and die.)

If you think homosexuality and gender swapping are abominations of nature, then you don’t know nature very well.

Links to fascinating articles:

 8 Interesting Animals That Can Change Gender (whatdewhat.com)

Homosexuality in nature explained – PsychMechanics

Has the Earth reached its carrying capacity? | HowStuffWorks

Matthew Shepard – Death, Impact & Facts – Biography

   This Guy Went to Jail Because Police Thought His Hair Was Too Long (vice.com)

What say ye?