I’m on vacation, and while this week isn’t turning out quite as planned, I am getting a little time to myself to write and think about some of the things that have been rattling around in my brain over the past few weeks. This morning was quiet and relaxing and I got to spend a little time sipping my coffee and poking around online catching up on world events. Every news source I looked at has a column dedicated to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I’m glad that the stories are being told now, ten days before the 11th. One thing I’ve learned about grief is that anniversaries are important. I’ve also learned that the grief comes on strong days before the anniversary itself, that the anticipation is harder than the day itself.
There are, no doubt, thousands of people anticipating the 10th anniversary of the loss of a loved one. And there are millions more anticipating the 10th anniversary of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies. So it’s no big surprise that we’re thinking and talking about it already.
This is a tough time for me, primarily because Scott’s birthday is on September 10th. While it’s not nearly as hard to deal with now, it does leave me feeling sad, and missing Scott terribly.
I perform the same ritual every year on Scott’s birthday—it’s nothing grand, just a small gesture. I go to the cemetery and place flowers on his grave then I sit and write for a while. I have mixed feelings about this ritual, largely because Scott’s headstone is not what it should be. It is a very small, very simple piece of granite engraved with “S. C. Tolson 2003.” That’s it. There’s a story behind all of this, but I don’t want to go into it here. All you need to know is that this is not what any of us hoped for.
I know that a headstone is not a true measure of a person. It’s a marker of a place where someone is buried and, to me anyway, little more. I ‘m not sure what I believe in regards to what happens to us when we die, but I do believe that the body remains the body and the person inside it leaves that body. I know this to be true because I saw Scott go through that transition while he was in the hospital. I saw him leave his body.
So I know that spot that’s marked with a piece of granite is not really Scott’s. He’s not there. I feel his presence in other places, and I like that. Even so, it’s hard to see this generic monument for a man who was anything but generic.
Yet I go to this place to honor Scott. I go there to contemplate and reflect. I go there to celebrate his birthday.
This is what we do. We erect monuments because we need something tangible. We need something we can point to and say, “here is a person who died.” We need this because we cannot point to the afterlife. We cannot point to a presence. We cannot point to the disembodied. Even those who believe in Heaven cannot point to it.
I imagine the thousands of monuments that will be visited on September 11th. I imagine the emotional weight they all carry. I imagine the tears that will come to those who visit and the memories those individuals will recall. I imagine the dead nearby, in whatever form they have chosen to take, sitting with the bereaved, offering a presence much larger and much more loving than any monument could ever be.