The sounds of silence and sorrow are all around us

Thursday, September 13, 2001

Jo Dee Messina performs Sept. 28 at the SIU Arena in Carbondale, Ill.

That Bach concert I went to so long ago --

the chandeliered room

of ladies and gentlemen who would never die ...

the voices go out,

the room becomes hushed,

the violinist

puts the irreversible sorrow of his face

into the opened palm

of the wood, the music begins ...

-- Galway Kinnell

Sept. 13, 2001

Dear Leslie,

The bells of St. Mary Cathedral that awaken me in the morning and ring again at noon usually sound joyous. The same bells sound mournful now. The world is perceived through a pall of smoke and dust.

Americans do not understand the infliction of terror or suicide missions. We have given our lives in wars to protect ourselves and to protect the ideal of freedom, but the kamikaze flights of the Japanese during World War II horrified us. Maybe they were supposed to make us fear an enemy willing to do something that insane.

Americans can't imagine doing what was done to us Tuesday. So we think that makes us different from the doers. We are not different. We are all human beings, all capable of good and evil.

The sharks that have wreaked such terror this summer on East Coast beaches are frightening but not evil. They follow God's will as surely as the trees when they grow and the bees when they sting. We alone have the capacity for evil because only we have the ability to think of ourselves as separate from the force that makes the cosmos go round.

The feeling of being separate from nature and from other human beings makes unholy deeds possible. If freedom makes evil possible it also leaves us free to choose goodness, to tap into our divinity.

But Tuesday's sickening events leave me speechless. The sadness and shellshock in the eyes of the people I know and love is unshakable. DC's chin wobbled all Tuesday morning. The human capacity for evil wounds her heart.

The president said the nation is being tested and promised we will pass the test. We will if we refuse to act in wrath, if we identify with our higher selves and bring the evil-doers to justice before the world instead of with our lower selves which want to bomb them into oblivion. Both feelings exist in me today.

Picasso's painting "Guernica" eloquently conveys the unspeakable about violence. Like art, poetry bypasses the logical part of ourselves that debates good and evil and plunges into our hearts, where the truths our souls already know are always remembered.

In "Last Songs," Kinnell writes:

What do they sing, the last birds

coasting down the twilight,


across woods filled with darkness, their

frayed wings

curved on the world like a lover's arms

which form, night after night, in sleep,

an irremediable absence?

Silence. Ashes

in the grate. Whatever it is

that keeps us from heaven,

sloth, wrath, greed, fear, could we only

reinvent it on earth

as song.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian

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