The rocks on the shore of the Mississippi are damp and the path is precarious. The atmosphere meets the muddy water and shrouds the banks in fog. The humidity of the October morning has dampened my clothing and my mood.
Stretching out for at least one mile, the riverbank is lined with people. Some are sitting on rocks or grass. Some stand. One man, dressed in the Stars and Stripes and waving a huge flag has taken the anchor position in the crowd.
We are all waiting for the US New York to float past us on its way to New York City for commissioning. The warship has left the shipyard where it grew from the melted remains of the Twin Towers and our naive country’s sense of safety.
We all wait, straining our eyes across the foggy river that defines this part of the United States and I consider my place here.
I sat in the Café du Monde, the evening before, surrounded by family and friends. We talked and laughed; attended by a Chinese man who barely spoke English. We read aloud our writings – poems of life, stories of love and protests of war. We read aloud for ourselves but not unnoticed by those around us. And I wondered, just what does the Chinese waiter think.
We are here, reading aloud in a public place, presenting our opinions and the response is laughter, and smiles and applause. In his country such a display holds the possibility of prison, torture and death.
We wait for the ship. Peacefully gathered. Civilians and police mingle and the atmosphere is celebratory but it is also bittersweet. Waiting.
I remember an image from the early hours after the Towers fell. Hospital workers in ER bays, IV’s spiked and empty stretchers – waiting. The distressed faces of the staff haunt me. They reflected the reality – those stretchers would remain empty. Would it have been better to have had them full?
Silently, the US New York slips through the fog and collectively the crowd is on its feet. Flags are waving and a band plays in the distance. I am overwhelmed with pride. We never catch a clear image of the ship. The fog on the river shrouds it behind a veil.
|If you look closely towards the back you can see the crew waving. Ghostly, huh?|
As the ship makes its way around a bend I see the silhouettes of the crew. They stand aft, waving back towards the shore. A chill runs through me as I feel the souls of those that are gone. Do the people here on the banks feel it? They must, the banks are silent. Does the crew feel it?
And I wonder, was a warship really the best thing to come of all that loss?
(This above essay was written three years ago on October 25, 2009. A few days prior, I found myself on a different part of the Mississippi River coast and quite by accident was witness to the scene above. I don't know why I happened to be there at that moment in time. I am not a particularly 'political' person. I did not lose anyone in 9/11. But as an ER nurse I felt a painful connection to those in service in New York and Washington DC. I guess THE COSMOS is throwing me a hint, but I am not good at guessing games. I do know those images will stay with me forever and there was something calming for me to see the people waiting for the ship.
A lot has changed in our world since 2009. But one fundamental thing has not. We remain free. Sure, we may have to practically strip down to board an airplane. Our economy is as shaky as the San Andreas Fault. And we are still Free to complain about it. We are Free to gather together to celebrate football and baseball and sparkly vampires. We are Free to question the banking industry, the medical care industry and the wisdom of making cars shaped like squares. We can point fingers at our elected officials and say "What the Fuck?" And we are Free to come together and remember.)