September 9, 2011

Perpetual Light

Kenneth Waldie, a young father of four and my cousin, is buried in Manhattan. Not in, exactly. More properly, his remains cling to Manhattan, are smeared across the island, are still driven through and trodden on by the city's heedless passersby, are still being swept from its stoops, are still gathering in its dark, still places, are being laid down as just another layer of human fallout.

My cousin was aboard the first of the two weaponized jet airliners deployed on September 11, 2001 and flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46:40 a.m.

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My cousin has gained an obscene intimacy with the city. His picture was in its papers. His name is engraved on at least one of its monuments.

It's possible to think that he's still held in Manhattan's generous marine light, but I should not.

But there also is Whitman, pressing against the crowd thronging at the ferry slip, pressing himself against the bodies of the city, and if I cannot believe that "every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you," I cannot disbelieve it either.

Even if my cousin is not suspended safe above Manhattan, I could still suspend my doubt.

There is no Catholic rite for discharging the "corporal work of mercy" that is burying the dead when there is no corpse to bury. A memorial mass is said instead. A photo stands in for the utterly departed.

(I wonder if, in the midst of the Cold War, Catholic theologians picked over the customs of my faith to provide a suitably reverent solution to the problem of the faithful rendered into atoms by a nuclear bomb.)

Ken was a husband, a father, a coach, an engineer at Raytheon, a Navy veteran, a graduate of Annapolis. We were about the same age. I met him only once, a few days after my mother died and when he was on way to a Navy posting in Australia. My father, my uncle Tom, and I went to the airport to pick him up, to take him to our grieving.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis. Timeless sleep in perpetual daylight, illogically, they're joined in my prayers. Light and undreaming sleep - those original guards against the dead's unquiet.

I can't remember a single thing about the 24 hours he spent in my father's house among sullen men.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page is from a public domain source.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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