11 September 2006

Bigger, More Gallant, Than They'd Guess

I wonder if you saw this essay on 9/11 by Peggy Noonan, "I Just Called to Say I Love You." If you have a moment, read it through, since in that way what I want to say will make more sense.

They awe me, those messages." 'Awe' may not be the best word, but something like it is surely a natural reaction. I did not feel approbation. I did not judge, coolly, that the callers acted reasonably. It was not a recognition of correctness, that a rule was followed--or of propriety, justification or legitimacy. No marking of a reciprocity, equality, or fairness entered into it. Neither was it a matter of taking satisfaction, feeling empathy, or being pleased. What we are responding to is the kalon, and if we are sensitive to it we feel wonderment and something like awe.

"No one said anything unneeded, extraneous or small. Crisis is a great editor."Greatness requires economy, isolation of action, framing. Note that it's not as if they did no other talking. They didn't stop speaking that day, or in that hour, but for their messages. But the significant action has to stand on its own somehow.

"There was the amazing acceptance....The people on the planes didn't have time to accept, to reflect, to think through; and yet so many showed the kind of grace you see in a hospice."A reconciliation to one's portion, and yet a rising above it at the same time, as if it did not matter: Is this the form that kataphronesis takes today?

"These were people saying, essentially, In spite of my imminent death, my thoughts are on you, and on loveIt is within the forum of love and friendship that these persons wish to live their last moments; it is how they ultimately identify themselves. This for them is to act sub specie aeternitatis. And they regard their last acts and thoughts as expressing and determining, definitively, who they are, for good or for ill--and others view these things in the same way.

"I think the sound of the last messages, of what was said, will live as long in human history, and contain within it as much of human history, as any old metallic roar." I haven't thought of these messages for five years, but to return to them now, is as if looking at something that has remained the same all this time, even when no one was remembering it (to\ kalo\n ga\r poluxro/nion). It is as if something has been established or achieved somewhere, which will remain without end-- that eu)klew=j a)pw/lonto.