forever hold your penguin dear, in memory of Meta

Ten years ago this evening, a young woman died in a car accident here in Asheville. This is the story of her extraordinary leave-taking. Our job is to keep the dead alive by telling their stories. I hope you will take a moment on this autumn day to whisper the name, “Meta, Meta,” as you read about a death, a community, a living. This post was written shortly after Meta left us in 2006 and is reposted here on the anniversary of that awful night when whole things changed forever for her family, her friends, and all the people in her future who might now wander, missing someone they cannot know. “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – unknown Emma and I watched “March of the Penguins” for the first time on Saturday night. I know the whole world has seen it by now, but we hadn’t. Mr. Brilliant had to leave the room; even though he is a man wont to explore the joys of forensic pathology in his spare time, has been known to do surgery on himself, and is hell bent on watching every episode of The Sopranos in slow motion, the very thought of penguin babies freezing to death was too much for him. He can’t watch CSI or Law & Order or House episodes where kids are hurt—it’s all about the kids for him. He had to go. He retreated to the living room. I myself escaped to the bathroom when a vulture arrived to feed on the young, leaving poor Emma to fend for herself. When an egg fell onto the ice and...

remember.

I am not interested in political statements or warnings or diatribes on this anniversary of 9/11. I’m not inclined to write a post about how we’ve lost our way in the years since then, about how the terrorists have won if their goal was to irretrievably break this country apart and allow fundamentalism to take root in the gaps left by horror. No. Still, all those American flags after 9/11. On cars, doors, houses, mailboxes, buildings, lapels. I don’t see them so much anymore. Our hatred of the enemy has been turned into hatred of ourselves, our outrage turned to complacency, something we swore would never happen, but it did. It surely did. I see division and hateful speech and an insularity that excludes so many. I see radicalism and ignorance and a polarized nation. I see meanness, pure and simple. This is no appropriate legacy, no adequate tribute to those thousands flying home to see their families or working on a vital business report on 9/11 and then suddenly, shockingly dead, but not dead before horror made their heart race in their chest. It is no appropriate response from those of us left behind. No, it is not. The word is shameful. What I do, and have done for the past few years, is spend 9/11 in meditation on what it is to be alive–fully alive. Alive in such a way that when the plane hits, I’m shocked and scared and panicked at leaving my loved ones behind, but also satisfied, sated, knowing I have said what I wanted to say, have lived the life I wanted, however...