September 11, 2011


Who by fire? And who by water, or  by jumping,  or quietly, or not.
all the old questions came back today, no new answers. 

Over breakfast at a cafe on the tip of Long Island early this morning, we share stories of ‘where were you  that day’.  On the flat screens live scenes of the ceremony downtown reveal the hypnotic immense pools of memory, and the ticker-tape roll-call of all the fallen that seems to never end. (one of us asks: how many died that day and since that day and still today, aftershocks and ripples of the terror?)
We talk, then argue about god and what it means  to look or not for ‘higher power’ in times of crisis; we drive away in silence and I am sad and keep hearing in my head Leonard Cohen’s Who by fire
and I remember how, on Yom Kippur 2001, just days after, we sang this  as the sun was setting and kept on singing and it seemed to never end.

but it did end. everything does. and that’s what we are so are afraid of I think – the ends. and why these rituals are so helpful to help us deal with death.
Is that what memorials are there for? tools for helping us cope with the concept of endings? Yom Kippur –  a memorial in time, just as the World Trade Center  is a memorial in space. Each  of them  like other sacred times and places  invite us ‘in’ for a temporary meditation on the grand themes and usually avoided theme of life and death, a glimpse into our relative place on the  map of history, complete with the meaning and the meaninglessness that is  part of the total package.


Imagine taking a walk into the grave yard, honoring your ancestors, friends, loved ones, and checking out your own grave. Memorials in time and place are meditations on death.
Why visit the dead? enter a grave yard, fast, remember? Can these visits to the yards of graves help us better live a fuller life? I think that is the intention. All the liturgies and rituals of atonement, of these days or repenting are there to help us be more here while we are, and better at it.
Today felt like a visit to the grave-yard. a check in on the big questions, life and death stuff. what is it all about.
No big ideas, just sad and silent. a still small voice. listen to what is, think of what and who is not any more.

Who by fire? As I drove I started my mental list of  this past year’s beloved and  departed – a list that was not as easy to compile as I would have thought and not yet completed.


I didn’t leave any stones on the grave yards, but I did leave a single wooden block, an ode to that day. (scroll down to read   ‘still small voice’ my 9/11 tribute as part of Toby Kahn’s exhibit at the Educational Alliance:
embodied light 9/11 in 2011 



9/11 /MY MAP
Still Small Voice
Amichai Lau-Lavie


(Presented as part of Embodied Light 9/11 in 2011) 

There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of God; but God was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake—fire; but God was not in the fire. And after the fire—a still, small voice.
(Kings I Chapter 19) 

1.     I watch the 1st tower go down from my office window on the 11th floor.  I think of a mastectomy. Confusion.  Orders on the PA system to evacuate the building. I run down the stairs. 


Location: 14th street and 8th avenue 


2.     I try calling P. but the cell phone doesn’t work and neither do the payphones. People are running in all directions in the middle of 14th Street. I run home, worried. Where is P.? Did he go downtown today?  We parted ways only an hour or so earlier and the sky was so blue. Panic.  Tears. 


Location:  14th street and 6th avenue 


3.      A crowd gathered on the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue – all heads turned south. I stand there with them, looking, silent, when the 2nd Tower topples.  Shrieks. But louder: Still Small Voice.  People start running up the avenue, covered with ashes. I know that this is Kali’s work. The Hindu Goddess of Destruction, dear to me, whose worshippers smear the ashes of pyres on their entire bodies in awe of the power of demise. This, I know, and am terribly calmed, is a creation of Divine proportions.  God is here. Still Small Voice. 



Location: 10th Street and 5th Avenue 



4.     It’s 5pm, P. and I, and B. who ran to our house in her socks from her Tribeca apartment and a few other friends head out to Ground Zero to try and help. It starts to rain. They tell us to leave, they can’t search for survivors. Rage and helplessness.  I scream at the heavens – why the rain? But I remember Kali and know that the rain is as right as ravage and the voice, still, small, is silent within. In Union Square the first ‘missing’ posters go up. 



Location: Union Square 



5.     One year later, I sit in the back of a cab and we drive downtown and I notice the new Taxi map and the grey twins are gone and the map is different. The map is the city. But the city is not the map. 



Location: here, now. 


PREPENT5772/Day Nine: Marry Me?
still small voice


Rabbi Amichai & Lab/Shul’s annual Elul journey into the new Jewish year with 40 daily communally co-created inspirations to help us begin the year with more focus and presence.

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