Vital Intimate Ritual: Meditative Healing at Ground Zero

Watching the reading of the names, at the World Trade Center site, now sacred ground for millions of people, it is clear that there are many legacies of the experience of September 11, 2001. On that day, thousands of ordinary people, some professional rescue workers, some just citizens who owned boats, or who happened to be nearby, worked to save half a million people from the imminent danger of the unfolding catastrophe. The best and most important legacy of that day is one of shared and selfless service.

Long ago, Confucius urged his followers to exhibit what virtues they had in their character through ceremonious and deliberate faithful participation in the intimate circle of relations around them, then to carry that good faith and ceremony forward into their relations with the rest of humanity.

Today, we witness the ceremony that has arisen, organically, from the wounds, the dignity and the shared sacrifice of so many people: the reading of the names of those who lost their lives on that tragic morning eleven years ago. The images from lower Manhattan today show brave, long grieving souls standing before the world to speak the names of those lost with the dignity, care and feeling, they require.

We see family members, friends and loved ones, gathering around the vast cascade pools that now fill the footprints of the fallen towers, dutifully and serenely making charcoal rubbings of the names inscribed in bronze around the pools. We see them touch the names, gently, lovingly, with the weight of hands that love, in solemn and reflective silence, only to rush their hands to their mouths in shock as they grasp the sadness of the absence of the physical person whose spirit they honor and carry with them.

What is beautiful and haunting about the cascade pools of the 9/11 Memorial is the slightness, the frail effort at presence they offer in place of the memory, or as a reflection of the solemnity of the loss, of a person so close and so loved. It is a transparent, gentle, deferential, but constant, companion to the grief of those who go to mourn, and an unintrusive aid to those who go to meditate, to acquire insight, to understand and to gain perspective.

The relatives who read the names take turns speaking about their lost loved ones, and offer advice like “Life is short; don’t blink,” and “Never forget.” The ceremony of the morning is a deliberate exercise of collective respect for the value of human life, and especially for the unique qualities of character that define an individual’s contribution to the fabric of human feeling and aspiration that surrounds them.

And what we see more clearly than any other element of the event, this morning, is the unrelenting diversity of culture and origin of the people who died. The diversity of the names read shows how the United States operates every day as the most inclusive and collaborative society in world history. This is a great collective show of respect for humanity itself, and an ongoing everyday truth that is too often lost in the shuffle and tension of what is less than dignified in the way of some people.

On the morning of September 11, 2012, it is possible to say that this nation has a way to enter the temple of shared dignity where an understanding of what connects us is more sacred than any amount of darkness or self-interest.

There is a world of human meaning of which we are all a part, and today we hear the gentle, noble, generous voice of the cello, the voices of those who know what has value, and we have the opportunity to spread the example of shared dignity, as the basic underpinning for all expressions of human freedom and imagination.

This morning, we are all closer to the truth.

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Originally published September 11, 2012, at

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