There was a period of hope just after Sept. 11, when relatives and friends of people who worked at the World Trade Center were distributing and posting "MISSING" notices. Many felt that, somehow, some way, their dear ones had only been injured or didn't know who they were, so they wanted everyone to help look for them. These notices were heartbreaking. The photos were usually taken from family occasions showing the person laughing, smiling for the camera, holding a new baby, celebrating a special event. The portraits elevated our perception to a more intimate connection. On a television interview, one fiancée bravely kept saying, "It's going to be OK. He's going to come home to me..."
We wanted to believe that every one of the missing would be just that - merely missing. The photos covered walls and lampposts and gazed back at us day after day throughout the rescue effort. Flowers and poems were placed by these areas. Eventually, the impromptu posters became memorials. Rain washed the chalk poem tributes away, and the flowers began to look shabby. But still those faces - the bright, shining faces - peered out and tugged at our hearts.
Our local newspaper devotes a full page a day to photos and stories about the lives of those who died. These are not just obituary reports; they are vignettes describing a hobby or funny experience. It will probably be months before we have seen this form of tribute to each one of the 5,000 "missing."
Words are not adequate to console. Words need to be accompanied by something more. Mary Baker Eddy, this newspaper's founder, wrote, "We must look deep into realism instead of accepting only the outward sense of things" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 129).
More about looking deeply into the reality of what constitutes a person's life is found in the Bible (see John 11:1-45). Jesus had been told that his friend Lazarus was dead and had been in the tomb for three days. Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha, who were also friends of Jesus, were trying to say and know the right thing. In an emotional moment, Martha pointed out that she knew Lazarus would "rise again in the resurrection at the last day." To me, this statement indicated her acceptance of loss, not an affirmation of a healing of sadness. This, combined with an entire community gathered to mourn, must have created an intense mental atmosphere of grief and pain. The Bible indicates there also was some concern because Jesus hadn't arrived in time to "save" Lazarus.
The Bible says Jesus "groaned in the spirit and was troubled." However, he had known that this would be an occasion to prove that death didn't have power over God's image and likeness. Even before the crowd witnessed the raising of Lazarus, Jesus thanked God.
Jesus' last words on this occasion in speaking of Lazarus, bound with grave clothes, was the instruction to "loose him, and let him go." One thing that we, too, can do is loose and let go of our concept of those who've passed on as dead, defeated, or diminished.
Looking deep into realism - spiritual realism - calls forth our conviction of the essence of identity as God made it. "Come forth," we can say. "Replace the picture of a person bound in tragedy with a true portrait of the meaning of his or her life and being." That person is not just a memory of someone missing. Each one leaves an inheritance of who they are - a unique legacy that can't be entombed or denied any more than Lazarus's true nature could be bound in linen and laid on a stone.
I saw an advertisement for a garden stone. It read, "If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to Heaven and bring you home again." We need to bring home our loved ones and place them safely in our hearts and lives. Let their lives continue to shine in our thoughts of them. Rob death of all victory or sting.
"Immutably Themselves," a poem by Doris Kerns Quinn, published in a book called "Ideas on Wings," says:
We know not yet what they shall be
When we shall see them as they are;
We'll keep the essence of them free
We will not think of them as far....
How strange that we had thought them gone;
We'll keep the essence of them free.
They shine as they are shone
We know not yet what they shall be.