Monday, September 11, 2006

How to Commemorate September 11th

One of my closest friends, who shall be nameless in case of patriotic ricochets, is ostriching out, hiding his eyes and his spirit from the barrage of Sept. 11th programs on TV, whether controversial(ABC's ill-advised and irresponsible miniseries) or respectfully inane, articles in the papers, interviews with orphaned children, etc., choosing instead to watch The Wire, or read pleasant books from yesteryear, when life was simple, or, perhaps, simply mercurial. I remember waking up that morning to the news, the full, surreal view of it on my TV which I never turned on in the daytime, but I had been alerted by a phone call, and thinking there was no point in getting out of bed again, maybe ever, my dreams of making a difference in an indifferent world now obliterated.
Yesterday I went to a Democratic fund-raiser in Malibu that seemed to shore up the American Dream as some used to dream it, especially in other places, held in or rather alongside an enormous mansion with huge grounds, pool, gazebo, shaded porches, and its own three-block long parking lot, that had been built by a Sikh dentist, who immigrated from India in the 50s, and apparently found gold in them thar fillings. The key speaker, after a scatterspray of local candidates, was Gore Vidal. Though obviously physically compromised, he is still handsome and commanding, the voice strong, opinions stronger, wit undiminished. He can go back through history in a sentence, calling up facts and quotes from his grandfather Gore or Teddy Roosevelt, and seems to hold onto little that is less than brilliant, except perhaps an irrational dislike for Woodrow Wilson, of whom I am personally irrationally fond, as he was briefly president of Bryn Mawr.
The highlight of Gore's (I can call him that, we have some history) restrained rant-- he was never overtly passionate, his voice steady, like his hooded gaze-- was his coming out for the first time publicly endorsing his cousin Albert for president. He has gotten hold of, Vidal conceded, "the only issue that really matters," because if we have no planet, we have no elections. Then he went on to some lesser issues, like deceit, and profit, and exploitation, and the demonization of the word and position 'Liberal.'
Afterwards he signed books, and I bought one, leaned over and whispered "I used to be Gwen Davis." Without looking up, he said "I'd heard that, that you had a sex change." Tired as he was-- he had spoken for a very long time, and his hand was less than steady after much signing of just his elegant name-- he personalized his inscription to me. I was suddenly moved, by his frailty, his unflagging intelligence, our history, and by how evanescent everything is, and asked if I could kiss him. "You've been important in my life," I said truthfully. He offered his cheek, and I kissed it, backing away just as he reached out his hand to touch me, so it fell on air, and we missed each other, which is pretty much the story of our relationship.
Then I came home to the news that my Aunt Bessie, the last except one of my mother's siblings, had died. Bess was the one in the family who was funniest, an uneducated kind of humor, combining boisterous irreverence, lusty femininity, and yoga(which she still taught into her eighties) with great generosity(she was the relative who scratched my back when I was little, while singing 'Twas on the isle of Capri.') She lived a long life, was Susie's mother, which leant her a touch of unexpected spirituality-- as Catholics see the Virgin Mary in really strange places, Bess saw Susie's face in the swirling water when she washed her hands after Susie died. That's a lie. She saw her face when she flushed the toilet, but I had trouble writing that as it seemed past irreverent even for Bess, though she never saw Susie till after the waste had disappeared.
I had a number of funny dreams last night-- I was about to miss planes-- the usual anxiety crap-- and awoke this morning wondering what I could do to improve the day, seeing what day it was. So I made French Toast, one of two dishes my mother knew how to make(the other one was spaghetti) in spite of my Grandma's being one of the great cooks ever. There were blueberries in my fridge, and I'd tried to eat them for their anti-oxidant wonders, but they were sour. So I put them on the French Toast and doused the whole concoction with Maple Syrup from New Hampshire which Heidi, the most American spawn of my most American friends, Muggy and Marty, had brought me for my housewarming, but which, before today, September 11th, I had never even thought about using, self-indulgence of the eating kind being outside my permitted perameters. Perpetually on a diet, I have had maple syrup only on the day the doctor was checking my blood, so I had to fast and then eat something with maple syrup on it, HOORAY! License!
So that, it seems to me, is how we should commemorate today. Do something you wouldn't ordinarily have dared to do, outside your boundaries, that harms no one, except maybe yourself if you consider self-indulgence harmful, and if you do, forget it for today.
Life, even when you think you hold it in your hand, is quicksilver. Fate is capricious, those you love vanish, none of us can predict what our end point will be. Add to that unstable mixture zealots who despise us, and what are the odds?
Or, if you have to connect your mind to the obscenity, read David Friend's astonishing book, Watching the World Change, which actually puts you there, on the spot with the photographers who bore witness, giving you a safety net of quiet intelligence, and a shield of compassion to hide behind. And while you read it, eat French Toast.