Friday, March 17, 2006

On death

My friend Tom wrote:

“The Georgetown University Hospital comprises several medical towers interconnected. The CCC Building is where the Pediatric Inpatient floor is.
On the fourth floor on a wall by the elevators there is a beautiful, large quilt encased in glass. Next to it there is a large picture of a young woman. Her expression is of a friendly, intelligent, serene, very nice looking woman. Below the picture it says:
Sandra D. Teague, Physical and Occupational Therapist.
19 June 1970- September 11, 2001

Sandra had been working at GUH for three years after graduating from her University degree. She had decided to take a vacation to Hawaii and was on the American Airlines Flight 77 to fly to Los Angeles and from there on to the islands. Flight 77 was highjacked and crushed into the Pentagon, just a couple of miles, across the river from Georgetown, in Arlington, Virginia.
The quilt was especially made in memory of Sandra "With sorrow and a deep sense of loss..." It has woven in its center a red square representing warmth and love. Surrounding this there are different colors signifying the passages of happiness and also setbacks in life.
Believe me, I have stopped many times to look at this beautiful quilt and read the words written about Sandra. She was one of the many innocent victims of the criminal attacks of September 11, as well as those of Madrid and London.
You can say that I am not a good Christian because one should forgive but never forget. I know I will never forgive.”

One piece of the evolution of man is the evidence of (certain) care for the dead. Of the many findings of the paleoarcheological site of Atapuerca the Pit of the Bones (“La sima de los huesos”) claims a major interest: it is bthe first evidence of some activity or behaviour related to dead humans. This means some consideration of transcendence beyond death: that there is something besides the body. You may call it soul or just remembrance.
The fossils found in the Pit of the Bones are dated some 300.000 years b.p.t (before present time). That is how old are memorial practices.
The quilt you mentioned is what is called a cenotaph: a memorial for a dead person elsewhere the actual tomb. Death, being tragic or just early, elicits deep feelings, old ones. And beautiful words.

The Bard said, with the voice of Mark Antony at Julius Caesar death:

“O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.
I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,
Who else must be let blood, who else is rank:
If I myself, there is no hour so fit
As Caesar's death hour, nor no instrument
Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich
With the most noble blood of all this world.
I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,
Fulfil your pleasure. Live a thousand years,
I shall not find myself so apt to die:
No place will please me so, no mean of death,
As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,
The choice and master spirits of this age.”

(Julius Caesar, Act three, Scene I)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

March 11th- On terror and Politics

Reaching the second anniversary of the M-11 (2004) massacre in Madrid commuter trains I watch with certain despair the attitudes of the Spanish opposition party, the Popular Party.

In the memorial celebrations held in the park area designated as Memorial for the Absent there have been cries and shouts demanding a “full investigation” on the grounds that the truth of what happened is not fully known. A convoluted theory of conspiracies has been proposed after the claims of putting the blame on the Basque independents ETA terrorist had proved wrong.
The whole point is that the attacks were so closed to the general elections that the reason for them was to generate a change in the electorate against the incumbent PP government. This was actually what happened, but everybody believes that the reason for the switch vote was precisely the way the aftermath of the attacks was handled by the PP government. To think otherwise would put too much foresight in the terrorist minds.
Previous experience, such as the 9/11 New York City WTC Twin Towers catastrophe and the London bombs of July 7, 2005 afterwards, produced a rally around the standing government. In fact both instances somehow reinforced the standing of both GW Bush and Tony Blair. Why would in Spain happen differently?

Obviously the conspiracy claims are just a smoke curtain to stave off the responsibilities of the then-acting government, that of the Popular Party. It’s just peculiar that the main advocate of the conspiracy theory happens to be the former Minister of Interior, Mr Acebes, who could be easily charged with negligence for not preventing the attacks. Should the attacks had taken place in any other inter-elections period, then opposition parties would had demanded an inquiry on the responsibilities of the Interior Ministry and surely asked for his resignation. The immediate elections took care of that and the Spanish people, by voting against the PP, sacked them.

The Popular Party have not digested yet their defeat and, worse, by acting as it has, seems that the undemocratic roots of the Spanish Right are still present and active.

But I believe that it’s just their top leaders, still shocked and entangled in their own contradictions. If they do not change, the electorate will tell them in the next elections. Watch for it.