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Standing on the Abyss

The events of September 11th were so traumatic that many of us have had to re-examine our view of reality. The web site lKtB: Seeing Ourselves offered a unique perspective on what each of us faced.

At least for me, this event was an existential moment, one in which life appears meaningless unless we somehow manage to bring our own meaning to it.

No wonder, then, that weeks later many people are still walking around dazed, unable to come to terms with what they’ve seen and what they have felt.

Some have filled the great void with American flags and red, white, and blue ribbons tied to antennas of large SUV’s. Others have filled it by contributing to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or some other equally worthy charity. Others have just kept going, pretending not to see the Void, not wanting to feel that death was there, just waiting.

Perhaps this is enough. Certainly it is better than just sitting down and giving up as many in Vietnam gave up, either to die or to end up in a drug-induced coma, never to fully awaken again, never to face the terrible reality of who they really were and what they had done.

But somehow I suspect that these people have simply put off an inevitable confrontation with themselves.

For myself,despite the fact that I already confronted the Void after Vietnam, I must confront it again thirty-some years later.

Perhaps I was luckier than most when I went to Vietnam because I was older, I had experienced more of life’s disappointments, and, most of all, because I had been exposed to modern literature’s disillusionment with life.

Little wonder that war-ravaged veterans of France had invented existentialism, that Grass had written The Tin Drum, that Vonnegut had written Cat’s Cradle or that Helling had written Catch-22.

If these works did not help me to fill the void, at least they prepared me for the sudden appearance of the void in my life. The great chasm between what I wanted the world to be and what it was and between who I wanted to be and who I had become did not come as a surprise.

Filling that void has been an ongoing struggle. Life’s ugly surprises assure that.

Personally, I partially chose to fill that void by becoming a teacher. And I taught literature, the “depressing” modern literature that is often banned in classrooms because it is “inappropriate” or “full of bad words” because I thought people needed these ideas, and their own ideas, to survive.

Personally, I’ll feel that the American people have truly filled that great Void when I hear that as much money has been donated to the Afghan refugees as was donated to the people of New York.