There are times when the Beast of Terror isn't welcome.  Those are the times when the Parents of Vigilance form a tight-knit Circle of Vigilance and defy the Beast's entrance into their children's hearts and souls.   Last night was one of those evenings when the Beast of Terror was banished by the Shields of Vigilance.  They stood tall and strong as Courage, Conviction and Right Actions held off Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.


Saturday--December 14, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 458
No Room At The Inn For
The Beast Of Terror

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 14 -- Ever try and play hooky from God?   I did.   And one of His nun's caught me.  Caught me cold.  Caught me red handed.  And, I was glad.
      I'm not a religious man by dogmatic terms.   I wasn't raised in a particular church or felt that religion was a meaningful part of my upbringing.   Quite the contrary, I resented it because my parents lived in a world of Terrorizing each other with words and fights that drove whatever "loving God" concept out of me at an early age.    The fact my real father abandoned me and I didn't like my step father who adopted me didn't help.  Or, that my grandmother was what I considered a "Bible thumping sin castigator" seemed to drive me further from the spiritual flame.
       I was never baptized as a child and felt no allegiance to any church or belief system, and, by all definitions was a secular humanist, one who believed the individual not some "higher power" ruled destiny.

Children Representing the Hope of the World

      En route to Vietnam I came face to face with some body bags--frozen green lumps of former human beings turned into blocks of ice zipped up neatly in a pale green bag.   At the time my dog tags--those things you wear around you neck with your name and blood type on them, and, your religious preference--stated I was a "No Preference," meaning I didn't belong to any religious belief..
       When I found out that guys with No Preference on their dog tags got the last body bags if there was a glut of deaths, and, if they ran out, the Catholics and Protestants got them first, I rushed to the Church, took a speed course in how to become a Catholic, and, became what I call a Body Bag Catholic--that is, if a bullet ended my secular humanism, I wanted to be first in line.
       So, by all twists and turns of Destiny, my relationship with nuns is basically non-existent.   About the only nun I've ever had any contact with is Sister Lucy, my granddaughter's "principal," the head of a pre-school she attends.
       Sister Lucy is always raising money for her struggling school.   It is a loving school, with children of all different cultures and backgrounds, some Catholic some not.    The teachers at the school range in diversity about equal to that of the United Nations.  In fact, when you take your child or grandchild to the school, it's as though you were placing him or her in a U.N. day care center.

The ever-hustling positive Sister Lucy

       Sister Lucy is always hustling.   It's positive hustling.   She's looking for ways to raise a nickel here or a dime there to either put on a new roof or add new padding to the poles in the playground so the kids will not bop their head.    Of course there's the rent and payment of the teachers, and all the other little costs that attack any CEO in running any business, whether it be profit or non-profit.
       When Sister Lucy found out I liked photography, she enlisted me to come and take pictures of the kids in classes for the newsletters the school puts out.   I couldn't say no. Sister Lucy as a woman, a business woman, regardless of her Catholic Nun habit, is not one you say no to.   When the kids are selling candy to raise funds for the school, Sister Lucy stands out on the sidewalk and approaches passersby.  She's not a teller she's a doer.  
         Turning her down would be like turning down Jimmy Carter who came up and asked you to help him build a house for the homeless.   I just couldn't fathom saying no, regardless of any beliefs I might hold that might try to oppose such an act.  They would all melt under the request.
         Oddly, I was trying to duck out from going to my granddaughters preschool Christmas play last night.   Sister Lucy had sent out a flyer telling the parents the school was going to have a photographer shooting pictures, and discouraged parents bringing their cameras.  
         In fact, the flyer said, "No Cameras."

Parents and friends of the children

   The play is held in a small room.  It is crowded and hot.  There is barely room for all to be seated.  My bulk--6-4 and 270 pounds--seems to take up the volume of at least two and perhaps three others.  Plus, if I couldn't shoot pictures as I usually did, I would be frustrated, fuming, and gnawing nails in the back corner all through the play.
        I planned, however, to stop by just before the play and shoot pictures of my granddaughter and her friends before the event, and then disappear to Starbucks and write. Following the play I would hook up with the family again.   It seemed an agreeable plan to all since it wasn't a rejection of my love for my granddaughter, and since everyone knew I would probably be grumpy because there was a "no camera" rule and I resent rules

Earlier in the week I exercised my citizen's rights as a reporter

     A few weeks earlier I had a street confrontation with New York's finest.  I was taking pictures of the police arresting a man for stealing. They had him in handcuffs and a throng of cops surrounded him on a busy street.  I was all the way across the street shooting pictures when a NYPD officer told me I couldn't take pictures.   Of course, that started it.
       I told him I could, that I was a journalist and I wasn't interfering with the arrest.  I reminded him about Free Speech and the citizen's rights to report police events in public.   Well, he didn't like that.  We ended u face to face and he threatened to arrest me.  I urged him to.  I told him I wanted to go before a judge, and that as long as I wasn't interfering with the "color of blue" he had no right to censor my right to report.  It got heated.   I threw out my hands and said "arrest me."

Proud performers doing their best

       Finally, a woman cop in charge broke it up and told the cop-in-my-face to cool it.   So, when someone tells me "you can't take pictures" my first response is: "Oh, yeah!  Arrest me!"
       My family knew I harbored those feelings regarding Sister Lucy's "no picture mandate."
       So, yesterday morning as I was sitting in Starbucks editing my stories and researching new ones, I got a call from my son-in-law.   It seemed one of the teachers who was going to take digital pictures wasn't able to, and Sister Lucy had called him to request me to take them for the school.
      I burst out laughing as he told me that Sister Lucy was waiting for him to call her back and let her know if I could do her "that special favor."
      I thought about the irony of it all.  Here I was, sulking like a little kid from whom the nun took his sucker, and in the midst of my sulk the nun comes back not with the one she took, but with a hundred other suckers she took from all the other kids and gave them all to me.   I was to represent all the parents who didn't bring their cameras.  I was appointed by Sister Lucy to be the "Infinite Eye."

       I told my son-in-law:  "How can I say no?"
      He replied:  "You can't."
      I replied to his reply:  "Okay, tell her I'll be there."
      I mean, there is no way you can say "no" to Sister Lucy.  In her hallway of the school is pictures of her with the Pope.   Shaking his hand.   Also, she cajoled former Vice President Dan Quayle to visit her school.  I'm sure she's so dogged that if the CIA asked her to find Osama bin Laden she could muster enough Spirits of Vigilance to find him somewhere, only she wouldn't let anyone hurt him.  She would probably make him sell candy to raise funds for the school for eternity, and to sit quietly in the back of the class until all his penance had been paid, which would take Eternity Plus.  She might even wear out a gross or two of rulers on his knuckles in the penance process.
      I knew most of the kids and all the teachers.
      When I arrived I looked out on the sea of faces of parents staring at me with my camera.  They didn't have theirs but I had mine.  I felt their cold eyes glaring. Hmmmmm, I thought, this isn't good.
       I held a quick conference with Sister Lucy and double checked her permission.

Permission was granted  to photograph the children

       "Sister," I said, "Since everyone else doesn't have a camera and I do, they may wonder why I got to take pictures and they didn't.  So is it OK if I put a sign on the front of my shirt and back of it that reads--School Photographer--in case there's a riot over my taking pictures?"
        Sister Lucy nodded seriously, ignoring my jest.  "Yes, good idea.  Good idea."
        I hastily scrawled a sign in primitive letters:   "School Photographer" and clipped one to the front of my FDNY T-shirt and my wife pinned another on my back.  Now, I was a combat photographer.  My flack jacket was my sign.  I would be accepted on the front lines without fear of being sniped.  Ah, I went about my tasks of capturing the magic of the children.
        I have taken many photos of my life of both the living and the dead, of both the horrors and beauty of life and of monumental as well as tragic events.
       But last night, Friday the 13th, 2002, was sheer magic.
       In the past, I had taken shot in the back, over the heads of people in the crowded room.   They were OK shots, but not spectacular.  Any photographer knows a great picture can only be had by shoving your camera right in the face of the subject.   It seems the farther the lens is from the subject, the less emotion in the result.
        I was lying on floor, inches from the kids, shooting up at all angles.  I could shove my camera right in their faces, take oblique shots, stand next to them as they sang and recited their Christmas songs and stories and see the glow in their eyes and hear the magic in the muffle of their Voices as they struggled to remember the words.

 Multi-ethnic children recited and sang

       I shot 325 pictures, as fast as my camera batteries could recycle.   I shot angles with the statue of Mary and Baby Jesus in the foreground.  I shot with and without the flash.  I shot with expanded exposes.   Sweat poured off my forehead as I ducked and weaved, trying not to block or interfere with the parents' view of their precious progeny.
      The kids were all different colors, a palette of humanity's diversity, black, white, brown, yellow and all various mixes and hues.   They were washed and scrubbed and polished and preened.   Some were happy and boisterous, others reserved, some shy and only little one cried.   The teachers coached and orchestrated their songs and sayings, and I felt as though I had been placed in the Womb of Vigilance, amidst all the children's children's children of whom I write daily.

In the Womb of Vigilance

      For those two hours of shooting every kid I could to ensure every face was represented from all the classes, and all the teachers and parents were equally captured on my digital disc--for those two hours I was in the Sentinel of Vigilance's Heaven.
       It was as though the children were not representing a certain religion or culture, but instead the Hope of them all-- Christian non-Christian, Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern--it didn't matter what corner of the face of the earth--the kids were there from them all.  They were the hearts and soul of Vigilance--they were the future of the world.
       When I was finished and came home, I downloaded the pictures and stared at them in awe.  They were magical pictures, all of them.   Some were just a bit more magical than others because of composition or lighting or the angle or looks in the kids' eyes, but they all had pixie dust sprinkled on them. They were all about the Pledge of Vigilance, and the parents in the room, and grandparents and loved ones were the Parents, Grandparents and Loved Ones of Vigilance.
       I felt light headed.
       Sometimes, in the quest to be a Terror Hunter, I forget I really am a Vigilance Hunter.   I hunt for moments when, like last night, the beauty of the children's children's children blossoms so bright that one is star struck.
       There was such awe in the pictures I took last night.   The faces of the children were the faces of the children in Iraq, Iran, Africa, Asia, North and South America, the Antarctic, Palestine, Jerusalem, Moscow, Chechen, Bangladesh, Nairobi.   
        They were the Children of Vigilance, the Grandchildren of Vigilance, the Great Great Great Grandchildren of Vigilance.

There was no room for The Beast of Terror

        In the room last night were all those who died at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, and in all the wars and battles from the beginning of time.   The room was filled with Spirits of Vigilance, flowing as though on the wings of the little angels that hang on branches of trees in thousands of homes.
        But there was one clear absence in the room.
        One attendee refused to walk through the doors.
        That was the Beast of Terror.
        There was no room at the inn for him last night.




Dec. 13--Friday The 13th And The Clouds Of Terrorism

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