Sunday, August 2, 2009


New York City. Gotham. The Big Apple.

I grew up in a blue collar town near St. Louis. We weren't considered a suburb, because people fled the big city to get TO the suburbs. No one fled TO our town; just the opposite. Nonetheless, we were close enough to be near the "big city" but far enough away that I never considered myself an urbanite.

Medical school was in Chicago. Moving there was one of the scariest days of my life. I told all my friends that if I didn't get mugged, then I wouldn't really have felt like I had lived in "the City". I very much feel like I lived in "the City" after getting rolled for a sack of flour, a gallon of milk, and some pocket change by a group of kids.

What does that have to do with NYC? I am not a big city person. They are fun to visit on occasion, and there are loads of things to do, but I am very happy to return home from them. Several years ago, we took a whirlwind trip to NYC to see CATS on Broadway before the show closed. It was a short trip, but the show was wonderful. The song "Memories", of course, was one of the highlights. Memories in NYC can be powerful.

My oldest child is there now, and we went to visit him recently. While there, we visited Ground Zero. My wife wasn't anxious to go there, as she thought there would be nothing to see. I wanted to go anyway, and we had the time and it was a quick subway trip, so we went. Right now, the site itself really ISN'T that much to see. A huge construction site, much like any other big city construction site might be. However, to the west is the Memorial museum, where there are many of the flyers, photos, paper cranes from Hiroshima survivors, etc. And to the South remains St. Paul's, the church that, though directly across the street from the Twin Towers, was untouched by their fall. Interestingly (to me), there is a pew that George Washington used in that church. There, too, are many memories of the events of that fateful day.

I was surprised by how much the experienced touched me. As I reflected on where I was on 9-11, what we all experienced that day, and how very many lives were effected that day, I was filled with a mixture of sadness, hope, anger, and a large dose of disappointment. The cots where the volunteers slept when they could, the pictures, the firemen's tools, the mangled metal, and all the rest are powerful memories.

But what REALLY was the most powerful emotion is the grief that this epic event is all but gone from our collective memory. It has been almost 8 years, I know. Time heals, I know. It has been about 5 years since my dad died, and just over a year for mom. I know that memories change with time. But with something this big, how can we as a nation be so calloused as to not be out there every day with a mixture of sadness and pride over this? I don't get it. Not at all. Everyone should go there; seeing it brings it home, makes it real. The memory becomes tangible, and the experience can teach us so much.

I know this isn't really hospice related, but there is at least a tenuous connection: no one knows the day or the hour of the end of their lives. I tell patients this all the time when I am giving them the prognosis talk. I could walk out their door and get run over. They could have a fatal stroke tonight, notwithstanding their terminal illness. An insane person with a mission could blow us all to pieces next week. Live life like it is ending soon, because, after all, it is.

The song from CATS is bittersweet, talking of memories of glories long gone, yet looking forward to the future. The lessons of 9-11 should do the same. And the lessons of the lives we touch every day should too.

See here for the lyrics:


1 comment:

  1. I was very much taken with this when I went to Manhattan a few years ago. My wife and I walked around the cement pillars and read the brief sentences that many had written on them in black sharpies. I thought that it was sad to see that there was not much else there other than the small kiosk out in front, and the hundreds, if not thousands of inscriptions written all over the place. It really broke my heart.
    I read the other day that the land in Pennsylvania has finally been acquired and that they soon will be able to start a memorial for the Passengers of Flight 93.
    It is truly sad that the only memorials we see honoring these victims and heroes happen only once a year and they are generated by the media for just a short time on 9/11.