- memory's wing -

It was close.  Close enough that maybe, had I looked up, I might have seen something -- a glint off a wing, the sun catching the curve of a well-waxed fuselage.  But I didn't, and the shock of its proximity and the scale of its loss left me sad and numb and deeply curious. 

The television coverage is waning.  It's the helicopters now, mostly, that remind.  They fly over my house on the way to the scene to keep an eye on the awful, where they make it their business to swoop over and zoom in.  Business is business.  

In the beginning, the camera moved in tight to show the yellow bits of insulation bobbing amid papers and shoes.  The gruesome scan for clues played on a loop.  The reporters and the gulls all hovered, picking at the parts. 

But then came the names, and the families and the friends, all to remind us that this kind of pain is an inch away from our own lives.  And so we ache to be assured they didn't suffer, and strain to forbid our imaginations from conjuring unthinkable moments.


I went out there yesterday, a fifteen mile drive spent questioning why I was so drawn to stand at the water's edge.  Part of it was because I am from this place.  They fell where I live, and I am a caretaker here.  Part of it was an urge just to be near, to bear belated witness and in some small way attempt to recognize and honor the site where 88 lives ended with such terrible simplicity.  Hundreds of us were there, quiet, each alone with private thoughts, yet linked by a simple common sorrow.  I saw no ghouls.  That there was virtually nothing to see perhaps confirmed that it was an honorable visit, as if we were holding mass, a respectful and humble try at communion and not the shameful gawk some might expect.

For me, there was another force at work as well.  I used to fly airplanes, years ago, and I have kinship with others who do the same.  While I am apt to succumb to the romance of aviation, I think my compulsion was more a need to salute the men who flew that plane, who held the faith of others and, in those brief final moments, must have felt so horribly helpless.  Every flier has a different mix of daring and science and romance that gets him or her into a cockpit.  And it's a feeling like no other when, by one's own hand, that first eager cradling lift is sensed and flight, at last, occurs.  That first flight is a unique release shared and honored among brethren.

So too with last flights.  And so I went.

On one of the emptier beaches was a man with a parasail.  He tried several times to get airborne, but never did.  Unfavorable winds.  As I watched him I was struck by how, even so close to disaster, the urge to get aloft abides.

We will find out what happened.  The helicopters will land.  The satellite trucks will roll home or travel in packs to a new awful place. The surf will be just surf again.  Our hunger for understanding and control will be appeased until another reminder of our flaw-filled humanity pops up.  Or floats down.  Over the weeks and years to come, grief will make its slow turn and the families and friends will find release in the lift of time's flight on fonder memory's wing.