Thoughts on 9/11
Carolyn and I knew one of the passengers in United Airlines Flight 175, the plane that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. On board was Rev. Francis Grogan, a Catholic priest who ministered in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. In his most recent e–mail, Fr. Francis wrote,
Since I last wrote I have been asked to move on to be Chaplain for a retirement home for our Holy Cross Teaching Brothers. They have need of a new Chaplain having lost their Chaplain of some 23 years in an accident on their property. So, I'm packing up and moving on… I go from Massachusetts to New York State (to Valatie, just south east of Albany.) Actually I'll have less responsibility. Can relax in my 76th year and share my last years with retired teaching Brothers!
A few hours later he was gone…
Life’s uncertainty has inspired numerous metaphors in literature—it is a dream, a flying shuttle, a mist, a puff of smoke, a shadow, a gesture in the air, a sentence written in the sand, a bird flying in one window of a house and out another. The most apt symbol was suggested by a friend who reckoned that the short dash that separates the birth and death dates on a tombstone represents the brevity of one’s life.
It’s good to ponder the transiency of life now and then. I think of Moses’ prayer: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12). Life is too short to treat it carelessly.
The country parson, George Herbert, said he used to frequent graveyards to “take acquaintance of this heap of dust,” and wrote…
Dear flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stem
And true descent; that when thou shalt grow fat,
And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayest know,
That flesh is but the glass which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust. Mark here below
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
That thou mayest fit thy self against the fall.
Herbert finds himself in a graveyard and ponders his own pasasing. He pictures the “dust that measures all our time” running through the hourglass of our flesh, which would itself in time become dust and be laid to rest with the ashes of those who lay beneath his feet. “Mark here below (in the grave),” he writes, “how tame these ashes are, how free from lust”—how unmoved by passion for money, sex or power.
It’s high time we took acquaintance of our dust, its transient lust and what alone will last…