Helen, sending you love once more…


“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company.”

C.S. Lewis 

I found out that Helen died this morning, and tragically, mindbendingly—at the hands of her fiance, while sipping my PG Tips and eating two McVitie’s digestives. Being British, she loved these too. The tea and digestives were a part of the break I was taking from the grueling work of attempting to write a synopsis for the proposal of a memoir about the loss of my husband. Both the British tea and the difficult work suddenly made me think of her. “Maybe I’ll write Helen.” We hadn’t corresponded for maybe a year, but she, being a well-known and highly successful children’s author herself, also finishing up her own memoir of her sudden widowhood when we last spoke, had encouraged me so greatly that I often went back to her for writing support. I wondered if her own book had come out yet and googled her in hopes of seeing the book cover and the rave reviews I expected. Instead—shocking news headlines about her disappearance and eventually, finding. I broke down. I cried in my kitchen beside my daughter’s lone swimming fish for this woman I have never met, but loved very much.

A very unique and ineffable bond is established among young widows online. While I have lived my life in the suburbs for the past six years, making small talk with other suburban moms about our children and their various activities, another, underground part of my life has often supported me in varying degrees—a community of women that don’t necessarily know each other—many of whom I’ve never had the honor to meet. They’ve watched my daughter grow up the past six years online via photos and stories. They check on us and wish me a happy birthday. Some of us text on difficult days or to celebrate the milestones of our children. Helen was one of those women. Exactly a year after my husband died, she discovered my blog. A little later, she wrote me this email:

I hesitated to write to you before now – the day I found your blog was the one year anniversary of your husband’s death. I stumbled across it because I was, again, late night Googling the words ‘husband’ and ‘drowned’. My husband drowned on the 27th February, 2011 whilst we were on holiday in Barbados.

Your writing is heartbreakingly beautiful. I write a blog, but my style is very different. We do what we have to do to get through the days. Life is bleak and the future bleaker.

I suppose I just wanted to let you know that when you sit down at the computer to write, at least one person out there appreciates it, even if reading your posts sometimes twists the knife of grief lodged in my own body.

Best wishes (how inadequate that sounds). HB

I received many, many emails on my original blog because an excerpt had been published in the NY Times thanks to a friend. I tried to respond to each person with a word of encouragement and usually signed those early emails, “Hope, Julia.” For most of them, that was the end of the correspondence, but some stayed. Helen was one of them. Not only were we both widowed, but our husbands both died by drowning which is more unusual—and so those of us in “the underground” found each other rather quickly despite distance or different life circumstances—Helen lived in London, was a bit older than me, and had no children.

My response to Helen’s first email:

Hi Helen,

I was so glad to get your email. (goes without saying by now- i wish we didn’t know each other for this reason).  I am so very sorry for your incredible loss.  And from what I read on your blog- you actually saw it happen.  I was in another country- which also sucks.  All of this does, no?

I read through some of your blog and really like the spirit you write with- for such a horrible ode- you write with great spirit and even humor.

Yes- we do what we have to.  Tonight is a particularly bad wave in terms of the grief for me.  I just miss him so much.  The pain is indescribable no?

I will bookmark your blog.

Thanks for taking the time to write me- it does help for some reason- having an audience for one’s grief.  Knowing others even catch a glimpse of this pain- though I know you have much more than that.

I’m so sorry Helen.

Let us keep in touch.  I write regularly with a few other young widows and find it nourishes me.

I’m here for you if you need a listening ear.

xxoo,  Julia

And so began a lasting friendship. “How bizarre our lives have become that we should be in different countries and yet find each other by the common thread of the way our husbands died,” she wrote in a later email. Yes, how bizarre. And now, today, with the news of her own tragic death, the universe again has bent into a strange, unrecognizable shape—Planet Grief, she aptly called it—the title of her blog which can be found here. On the blog, one can see how beloved she was by so many women, all devastated and angered by this horrendous act, all compelled to write so many lovely tributes, most of them having never met her. Many of them grievers who found her because of their own loss, they understand they have no “claim” to this grief the way her family does, as do I, and yet…the feelings of loss are genuine.

While still sobbing in my kitchen, I wrote another of these underground friends who knew Helen via her writing. “What would Helen say?” I asked her, still in shock. “She might say, ‘What the fuck?'” she replied. Yes.

While I documented my own life—grieving and mothering a toddler in the NYC area, Helen’s blog documented her life as a widow in London with a dark sense of humor and wit that quickly drew an entire community of women from around the world together. Somehow reading her blog, despite the fact that its subject matter was the sudden drowning of her beloved before her eyes, one felt lighter. The comments sections had lengthy threads where women were able to draw strength from each other and even laugh. I remember one thread that evolved into the women jokingly talking about wearing tie dye and living on a commune together. Helen always moderated the comments with her usual grace and style, making each woman feel her friend. Helen asked to link to one of my own posts, “Live Well,” about how we couldn’t necessarily strive for happiness or a happy ending, but we could strive to live well. When I began this new blog, she left comments and sometimes asked if she could post them on her blog. I was always so happy to see her comments because I respected her so much: her own writing talent, her wit, and this air of sophistication that her stories of her life in London carried for me.

When I eventually stopped writing on my first blog three years after my husband died, she wrote to say she’d noticed I hadn’t written there in a year and wanted to check in on us. Her blog had also taken a back seat but she was starting to post again in preparation for the book release. I replied, “I am happy to read your voice again.  It’s like you’re an old friend.”

It has been a few months since Helen was found. I understand now why people who found out later that Dan had died were so devastated in a particular way. I get that now. Here I was, imagining that even on this day, Helen might have been in England, sitting in her kitchen, sipping her PG Tips, only to find out that she has been gone now for months—that she can not be found on this earth. Her book, When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis, was published last year. I used to send new widows to her blog, and they’d respond with things like, “I’m already chuckling…” and so I can recommend this book as well without reservation. I am so glad that she got to finish it.

After I read this surreal news this morning, I did what I’m strangely compelled to do at times like this: I searched for every word of every comment and correspondence that we had in the past six years. All I could think about was putting together some kind of tribute in words to this lovely woman whom I befriended during the darkest period of both our lives. Early grief is so fuzzy and hazy, and yet has a clarity about it at the very same time—a sharpness, a crystallization. Experiences and relationships made during that time period become holy. After I read through our correspondence, I went for my daily walk and cried. When people die, we want to say their name aloud, “Helen!” was all I could say over and over again in disbelief as I walked around the figure eight shaped walking path four times with streaming tears leaving behind soft stains on my face after the wind had dried them . I wanted her to know how much she had meant to me. But when I came home and read through some of our correspondence, I found I already had:

Helen- I am really grateful for you.  You make me laugh so much.  And your spirit coming through your writing from another continent makes me believe in souls and that we are more than animals.  Your spirit is absolutely full of life.  You are the someone everyone wants in their corner.  You are doing an amazing thing uniting all of those women and so early on in your own journey…out of your sorrow is coming laughter for many. How strange and wonderful and heartbreaking all at once.

Still, I am sad that we hadn’t been in touch more recently, specifically for the five year anniversary of her late husband’s death a few weeks before her own. I wish I had written to check up on her. That is a big anniversary. I am sorry for that.

I find her obituary in the Guardian, and these kind words from her editor:

“[Helen had] the ability to enter into the emotional lives of her characters with a wit and wisdom which is recognised by readers and the hallmark of all great writers of fiction – the skill of stepping into the hearts and minds of her characters. Empathy, wit, observation, hard work and dedication – all of these were attributes Helen had in abundance.”

Yes, such a wonderful combination of all of those traits and so much more. Arthur Schopenhauer said of each loss:”the deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.” For me, today, something has been absolutely and irretrievably lost. I have lost a sweet comrade, one of my own- both as a widow and a writer.

I will miss especially her dark humor, “The waves of grief are, as you say, indescribable and can often come without warning. I am hoping that I will learn to ride them (I’ve learnt that I can’t avoid water metaphors and grief so I just go with it).” These are the kinds of things only we could say to each other.

I will miss her encouragement of my own writing when I am filled with self-doubt. “Confidence can be worked on but innate talent (in your case you are clearly a natural wordsmith) cannot be taught, only polished. You won’t make a fool of yourself, I promise. I don’t make promises lightly.” While I often doubted the encouragement of my writing by other friends because I feared they were doing so out of self-pity, I knew Helen was being genuine. I trusted her because I’d known her to be a voice of truth.

I do not want to share all of our correspondence here, but I will miss the simple back and forth between two people who had never met with closings like, “Sending you love from London. Hxxxxx,” “Much love and gratitude for your life- Julia,” “Sending you and little A love from across the Atlantic,” “From an ocean away and from my true soul- thank you for being a light to me.  Thank you for writing yourself.  Your words will be a gift to people- they will make them smile in the midst of tears, Julia” and “It’s not a one way street you know. Likewise for me lovely lass. H.”

I had thought that one day we might meet in person, and we had corresponded about that as well. “Until we meet one day in person…in London or NYC sipping champagne! J” We talked about time she spent with her husband in NYC and if she could ever go back, “Perhaps the impetus for that journey will be you and the champagne we will share. I’m crying just thinking about it. H.” I am sorry that this meeting will never happen. I am sorry that I am here composing this today. Somehow when I post this, I will know for sure that it is true, that this has really happened so unjustly to my friend. She helped so many others, and yet her life was taken. I pray for justice for her. She will leave no comments here.

Today after reading the news, I found and watched a video of Helen, one of a few she made for the first time promoting the recent book. I’ve probably seen a photo or two of her, but I’d never heard her voice. But in sharing our stories through our writing on our blogs, as well as our correspondence, we connected across space and time, and I heard her “voice.” Despite distance, I thought of her as close. “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul,” says Joyce Carol Oates.

I want to leave you with bits and pieces from a very long second-to-last email from Helen encouraging me about my writing. I hope that her words can encourage someone today in whatever venture they’re called to as they encouraged me and help her beautiful spirit live on in some small way:

Your email had me shaking my head (and laughing and wanting to hug you) in disbelief at our similarities, so before I address the points in your email (gosh, that sounds very formal, doesn’t it?) I wanted to tell you a story. Grab that cup of PG Tips and a whole packet of digestives, because this could be a long one…

…You have to do it. I’m going to make that an order. If you don’t at least try, it will eat you up. You will be terrified. I am. Constantly. Periodically, I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and intermittent bouts of agoraphobia. If we never take that leap of faith, how can we tell whether we will crash and burn or soar? …Let’s try and have courage together…

…I wish you could sit at my kitchen table and we could cry and hug and kick each other’s butts when necessary. You have SO MUCH to give, but the first step is just standing up on shaky legs and putting your hand up to say, “I’m going to do it.” Note that I didn’t say, “I’m ready,” because in truth I don’t think anyone with our issues is ever going to be ready…

…Go for it girl and I will be cheering you on (and holding your hand) every step of the way.

H xxxxxx

I am so sad that she can no longer hold my hand each step of the way, but I am so thankful to have crossed paths with this classy woman. Readers, please think of my friend Helen today, and in her honor,”Let’s try and have courage together.” Helen, though you proved differently with yours, my words here feel futile once again, and it feels impossible to honor you rightly. Please know how much you will be missed by me, from across the Atlantic. You were my friend. I won’t forget you.

As she often signed off,

“Solidarity and love,”


Image via BBC.


“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The Korean word for hello, ahn young ha se yo, translates literally to, “Are you at peace?” When I asked my daughter’s Korean language tutor about it, she said it’s a little bit more like “Are you well?” but I think I prefer, “Are you at peace?”

Peace eludes me often. Most days I feel like I’m walking in a minefield. A few weeks ago, the train that goes by our house and into NYC crashed at one of the stations in NJ killing one, a young mother, and sending over a hundred people to the hospital. We take this train often. Last month, multiple bombs were found in NYC and in NJ. A few days afterward we were headed into the city to the American Girl store for my daughter’s birthday. Over the summer, I worry about mosquitos and tics—West Niles, Zika, and Lyme’s Disease. Heading into fall, just as I feel relieved that the bugs are dying, I start seeing the articles about the flu and how we must get vaccinated because it’s very serious and could be deadly. It’s the time when I start buying extra immunity gummy vitamins and washing my hands constantly. Each day when I go to the mailbox, I hold my breath hoping that there aren’t any unexpected bills. The health insurance I buy sucks and it seems like five months after every procedure I need, the bills come, whether or not they’ve been paid. I visit the dermatologist to examine freckles, get a second opinion on the lump that I found. I try to buy organic and not wear any products with parabens or phthalates. I ask for wisdom in my prayers when mean girls are surfacing at my daughter’s school.

My life is fairly typical on a day-to-day basis, so I know most of us deal with these same concerns. Is it possible to have peace in the world we live in? In a world where the nightly news is disturbing and a quick scan at Facebook’s trending headlines tell me about creepy clowns luring children and that the earth’s carbon dioxide levels have “passed the point of no return?” Breathing helps. Breathe in…breathe out.

A widow friend in California tells me once that she kind of lives in a bubble with her children. She is a strong woman, active, working hard, and raising two children. But something about this bubble idea appealed to me. There certainly is wisdom in turning off the news and putting down the constant feeds of endless information.

As I was waiting last week for my biopsy results on that lump, I thought a lot about peace. A week I spent completely alone at the University of Virginia where I went to school came back to me for the first time in years, but memories do often return when we need them most. There’d been a huge blizzard that year, and the choir retreat I’d come back to school early for that winter break, was cancelled as a result. I was there though, so I made the best of it. I stayed in my apartment, usually filled with five other girls, by myself. I walked around the still, not yet plowed campus stepping in my own footprints on the way back. My apartment room though, was very pretty and well lit. My large window overlooked the hills and a freight train that ran by. I was at peace there playing my guitar and singing, reading. When one of my apartment-mates arrived herself only a day or so early, she knocked on my door. She was lonely and uneasy with the quiet. She was surprised when she came in from the darkened hallway to find my room bright and cheerful. “How did you stay here all week by yourself?” she asked confounded.

I am an introvert and able to be by myself for quite a while, but I also didn’t feel alone then. I certainly was more sheltered about the general state of things in the world. All I really had to manage was myself. I was 19- my whole life and all of its ups and downs still ahead of me. What did I know really?

But the quietness and coldness of walking around a deserted college campus in deep snow and not seeing a soul, has stayed with me as a symbol of peace. I haven’t had this kind of peace for a long time.

My mind and thoughts have been scattered. Neither my heart nor mind has been stayed. Stayed. It’s been my word for the past few months. Apparently, the Hebrew word means to stay in one place, like the stake holding down a tent to keep it from moving. Amidst the information overload, the activities of my daughter, my financial concerns and spiritual concerns, what does it mean to be “stayed” on something? A few friends happened to text me the same verse while I was waiting for my test results, “You will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You because He trusts in You.” But I wondered how to “stay” my mind on an invisible God in the face of cold doctors’ offices and uncertainties in my life and our world.

Peace is hard to grasp. I couldn’t even find a photo to represent the kind of real peace I’m meditating on, not warm and fuzzy peace or even nature photos- to post here. You can keep a gratitude list of things you’re thankful for in black and white in an effort to become more grateful. It’s much harder to keep a “peace list” to become “more peaceful.” It is contrary to the popular concept of meditation, which I’ve studied, acknowledging your thoughts, but viewing them as clouds rather than a part of you, letting them pass by. “Oh, there it goes- my crazy anxiety.” Peace isn’t just about evicting anxious thoughts; it’s about replacing them with a mind stayed on something else. Fixed. Not just an absence, but a presence. If anxiety comes from fear and guilt, peace is the gift of love and reconciliation. It’s paradoxical in nature. To have your mind fixed on something that “surpasses all understanding.” It’s Jesus sleeping in a boat, while it’s tossed in the tempest. They’re also the first words He spoke to the disciples after the resurrection when he entered the locked room where the terrified men were hiding: “Peace be with you.” It’s not earned, but given and just received, but we also must choose and participate in it actively. “My peace I leave you.”

When Tolstoy had his own existential crisis, more about why to live at all than how to live in peace- after much deliberation, he came to this: “So that besides rational knowledge, which had seemed to me the only knowledge, I was inevitably brought to acknowledge that all live humanity has another irrational knowledge — faith which makes it possible to live. Faith still remained to me as irrational as it was before, but I could not but admit that it alone gives mankind a reply to the questions of life, and that consequently it makes life possible.”

He also writes, “And I understood that, however irrational and distorted might be the replies given by faith, they have this advantage, that they introduce into every answer a relation between the finite and the infinite, without which there can be no solution.” This relation between the finite and the infinite seems integral to peace also.

I admit, I have not mastered this kind of irrational knowledge, this kind of mind stayed on him—this peace. It still seems more theological and abstract and less “with” me. But as I waited for my results last week, (which were negative)I had an image of walking in the snow in his footsteps, and just following in those steps wherever they might lead(though I confess, pretty begrudgingly if they led somewhere really hard). Peace is not an absence of trouble or suffering. Like the Korean greeting, the Hebrews also referenced peace in their greeting: “Shalom.” Its meaning is more complex and closer to “wholeness.” It’s not just wishing someone would have no troubles, but that they would in fact experience the highest good. Not an absence, but a presence. Presence is something we sense. Even in the dark, or blindfolded, we can sense the nearness of another human being, their presence. Perhaps any irrational knowledge, any connection of the finite to the infinite, true peace— is a lot like this presence in the dark.

These thoughts are in no way complete, but I’m especially curious to hear how others experience or incorporate peace in our current world. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic. As always, thank you for reading.






Look Up


Just look around you — at the people crouched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or walk their dogs, or play with their children. Observe yourself in line for coffee, or in a quick work break, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes. We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down.  Andrew Sullivan, I Used to Be a Human Being.

I read not too long ago that people are experiencing new kinds of neck strain because they’re always slightly bent over their cell phones. There are so many articles about our addiction to distraction, and specifically our smart phones, so I don’t think I need to convince anyone of that here. I struggle with disconnecting, and have been finding lately, that as a result, my thoughts are scattered, and I can’t focus for long periods of time. I’ve come to expect interruption.

I’m not going to knock social media because I myself have found genuine connection there on occasion. However, I do feel the conviction often when I’m looking at my phone or computer screen, that I’m living in a “virtual world” of mostly my creation- my friends, the publications I choose to subscribe to or “like,” carefully crafted personas rather than flawed people. It’s almost as though I am literally wearing virtual reality glasses. Every now and then, I look up and understand, “Oh, that’s my actual world in front of me.” But the truth is, sometimes the real world in front of me is too real, too wild, and too demanding. Instead of waking up in bed and stretching, I often ready myself to face the day by grabbing my phone and rationalizing that I’ll just check email and Facebook, my Dictionary Word of the Day, and read the NY Times headlines. Sometimes in my bedroom, darkened by blackout blinds, the screen light on my phone feels nearly blinding, but I squint and read on.

What most concerns me lately, though, is the false sense of an interior life that scrolling through feeds and articles gives me. My interior life should be reserved for, primarily, my thoughts and reflections, not the ingestion of hundreds of other articles, studies, suggestions, comments, and arguments. And yet, time spent looking down at my phone or computer screen has usurped much of what was previously interior time.

While there are many theories about the best way to “detox” from phone addictions and social media addiction,(Andrew Sullivan, who I quote above, went on a detox retreat)  I think maybe just making it a goal to look up, rather than down, is a great way to return to your interior life and the real world around you.

Two weekends ago, I sat on my porch with Audrey because it was a beautiful day. I sat sideways on our hammock just staring up at the sky and trees, framed by the ornate Victorian flourishes on the columns of our porch. If I hadn’t been looking up, I wouldn’t have noticed the bald eagle that flew right towards our house, feet from where we sat, directly in front of me. “Audrey, look!” I stammered out, and she turned to see the eagle in time before it disappeared. The bird’s flight was far too fast for me to even think about grabbing my phone to take a picture. Instead, we both savored the moment with simple, quiet words like, “Wow!” and “That was amazing.”

On my daily walk, my eyes are drawn to all of the tall trees around the walking path. In this screen-less time, I mull over writing projects and envision their structure, pray, or even just talk out loud, breath deeply, and sigh.  Now that we’re entering fall, I often just watch the leaves take their graceful journey downward.

Last week, as I returned home from an appointment and a few errands, feeling slightly defeated at the lack of progress on the day’s to-do list, I took a deep breath, and looked up before going in the house to unpack the groceries. Directly over my head, so high up in the sky, I had to lean back until my head was parallel to the ground, was a rainbow encircling the sun just visible between the two trees whose branches arched above me. This time I regret that I actually did get my phone and take a few photos of the rainbow. But you know what? I couldn’t capture it because you can’t capture a moment—the surprise and comfort and hope that rainbow gave me—on a phone camera.

The FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomena urges us on to look down, stay engaged, connected, in the know. But the real missing out, the missing out of moments, is happening every day. I don’t want to miss the moment when my child and I share the unexpected holiness of a majestic bird gracing our presence. I don’t want to miss the moments of quiet and stillness while the first autumn leaves slowly rain down in front of me. I don’t want to miss the rainbow right above me that urges me on even when the day’s tasks overwhelm me. I can’t purge screens or social media from my life completely, but maybe I can spend less time looking down, and more time…looking up.

Reading Names Aloud


“Throughout the ancient world, naming was a sacred act. It was the word by which a child was called into his calling. It was the voice of destiny, summoning the child into his future with all its glorious promise.” Anne Hamilton, God’s Panoply: The Armour of God and the Kiss of Heaven

On Sunday, the anniversary of 9/11 felt much heavier than usual. Maybe that’s because it was the 15 year anniversary. Maybe it’s because I’ve been down there more these past few years staying with friends who live there. Or maybe it’s because my daughter is at an age where she now knows the events of that day.

As is so often the case with traumatic events, we tell the story over and over- at least our small version of the larger story. I tell Audrey how I saw the towers on my bus ride into work right before the Lincoln tunnel- how it was always my signal that I was almost there. I tell her how by the time I walked to my building on 45th Street, the first plane had crashed and co-workers had the image up on their computer screens. Still, my friend and I went down to the 7th floor to get bagels for breakfast, ignorant to what was already unfolding. Back upstairs, the second plane had hit. By then we all knew. A voicemail on my phone from my dad asking if I was OK, sounding choked up at the end of his message, confirmed how bad it was. “When I heard grandpa’s voice, I knew it was unlike anything that had ever happened during my lifetime,” I tell her. I tell her about how I met her dad at his office where we could look out his window and clearly see the smoking towers downtown, and how we wandered around trying to catch a cab uptown to his apartment with two of our co-workers, how there was no cell service, no subways, buses, or trains running, and yet how people walked around for the most part like it was an ordinary day which made it even more surreal.

I tell her we finally got a ride in a stranger’s car who dropped us off on the other side of the GWB. “A stranger!!???” she is astounded. “This was very different.” I tell her how weeks and maybe months afterwards, the subways and streets were covered with flyers and photos of people that were “missing.” “You know how sad you get when you see those “missing dog” posters when we’re driving?” I ask. “Well, these were hundreds of posters for missing people.” “Wow.”

We looked at a book my company, Random House, had made memorializing the towers and given out to all employees. Inside are pictures of the construction and the history. I take out two other photo albums and find a picture of me as a two or three-year-old with my dad and brother, the towers in the background. In another album is a picture of me taken by Dan with the towers straight above me. I don’t tell her all of this to traumatize her, but because I think she is old enough to understand this simplified version, and because I promised then I would never forget, and I will not always be here to remember.

She’s been down to the reflecting pools and she knows those giant footprints are where the Towers stood. She imagines that the Towers fell the way blocks do, sideways, and asks me about the other nearby buildings and how they survived. I try to explain how they collapsed in and on themselves. Then she asks, “But wait, if the people flying the plane knew they would die too, why would they still do that?” What she’s really asking is “How could someone’s hatred surpass their love of life? Their own life?” Seven-year olds know the value of life. She is eager to wake up every morning, and hates going to sleep each night because she feels like she’s missing out on life.

Later, before church, I turn on the television and we listen for just a bit to the reading of the names. I can think of no better way to honor those who lost their lives than this reading of the names interrupted only by the ringing bell and moments of silence marking each plane’s impact and the falling of the Towers, as well as the plane hitting the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania.

When I hear each name, first, middle, last, I imagine a parent naming their newborn, listening to the sound of its cadence.

I think about how there is nothing more sacred than a name. It was, after all, our first job in the garden, to name things. “I don’t think Bluey even knows he’s a fish,” Audrey says sometimes. “No, he doesn’t know that name. That is one difference between humans and animals. We name things.”

I keep a list of people I am praying for and I try to go through it each morning. If I tell someone I am praying for them, I want to mean it, but those prayers aren’t usually lengthy. Quite often, they are simply the names read aloud with short pauses in between, very similar to the reading at the 9/11 service. I’m a lover of words, but these names embraced on either side by silence, like an offering in my outstretched palms, often feels more powerful than all of my finest words.

I hear that morning from the newscasters that there was some discussion of not proceeding with the naming this year and going forward, but I’m glad they did. When we come back from church 2-1/2 hours later, I turn on the TV again. “They’re still reading those?” Audrey says with astonishment. “Yes, they are,” is all I can say.


Currently Reading: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy


To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

I don’t read a lot of fiction at all, but this is one of my favorite books, and I haven’t read it since I was a newlywed. Folding down favorite pages while balancing on the subway on my commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, it quickly became one of my favorite books.

Using a voice slightly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in the Catcher in the Rye, but less dreary, older/wiser, more hopeful and truly unique, and a backdrop of New Orleans-think French Quarter balconies and melancholic Southern charm with an edge, Percy touches upon the deepest questions of life:

“But this morning when I got up, I dressed as usual and began as usual to put my belongings into my pockets: wallet, notebook (for writing down occasional thoughts), pencil, keys, handkerchief, pocket slide rule (for calculating percentage returns on principal). They looked both unfamiliar and at the same time full of clues. I stood in the center of the room and gazed at the little pile, sighting through a hole made by thumb and forefinger. What was unfamiliar about them was that I could see them. They might have belonged to someone else. A man can look at this little pile on his bureau for thirty years and never once see it. It is as invisible as his own hand. Once I saw it, however, the search became possible.”

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

I didn’t reread the book in its entirety, but I did skim through it the first year after my husband died. I knew I would find something there for my own search, and I did. Loss too makes everything look “unfamiliar and at the same time full of clues.” It does, I suppose, make the search and the seeking possible.

It is jarring, but a good idea, to see your own intimate belongings, your own self even, as unfamiliar every now and then, to not be so sunk in the everydayness of our own lives, to be “on to something,” as Percy says.