April 14, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 215
"Please...Help Feed Me!
Please...Help Feed Me!"
A lost soul's cry of Terror
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 14--It is 215 days
after September 11th, 2001. As the clock ticks,
5,160 hours have passed since the holocaust of Nine Eleven,
and 645 meals have been eaten by the living who enjoy breakfast,
lunch and dinner as part of their daily routine.
confirmed dead or presumed dead from the attack on the Second
Tuesday of September, 2001, will not be subject to the Terror
of hunger. Unless one considers Complacency a form of
I thought of
the bizarre fact that people's awareness--their Vigilance--was
food for the Spirits of Vigilance who stand guard over Ground
Zero as I climbed up the subway stairs at Union Square the other
day, located at 14th Street in Lower Manhattan. Without
the support of the living's memories, would the sprits of the
dead starve? As I hiked up the dirty, concrete stairs
toward the gauzy sky drizzling rain on the parched New York
soil, I heard the wail of a human soul signaling distress.
The gravelling cry cut through the misty wet air. It echoed
against the concrete shell forming a dank mouth into the subway's
gullet. The Voice sparked some primal alarm within
me--a genetic 911 of human distress. I stiffened and hurried
up the stairs to see how I might help. The sound was that
of the dying, the wounded, the pitiable.
As I reached the top of
the stairs, flakes of wet drizzle smothered my face. My
eyes flicked about for some fallen comrade of the flesh, some
sorrowful soul with a knife rammed in his guts, or a broken
leg. All I saw was the figure of a bent, desiccated
man at the corner of the subway entrance facing those who were
entering. He wore a battered watch cap.
His arms were hidden in an oversized coat, one that street people
get from the Catholic Worker relief house on 1st Street between
2nd and 1st Avenue, or the Salvation Army down the block on
14th Street, or from any of a number of homeless shelters where
clothes are donated for those wandering souls of the streets
of New York City.
New York's Coalition For
The Homeless reports that on any given day 5,700 families, 18,000
men, women and children, plus more than 7,000 adults, fill the
city's municipal shelters. Another 25,000
live on the city streets, they report. This man
was one of those 50,000 wandering souls amidst a population
of over 8 million.
The man, his back to me,
brayed words into the foggy mist I couldn't quite understand.
He was a foghorn, crying out to the ships of humanity who hurriedly
sailed by his station near the railing where he held onto the
metal with one hand, knees bent, neck arched as he cried his
lament to the quiescent passengers of life who avoided
eye contact with him, ignored his presence and pleas as they
navigated their way into the jaws of the subway to catch trains
that would transport them to work or lunch or home.
I moved at rescue
speed, my radar alert to the wounded sound of an human animal
in distress. It was an autonomic response, reminding me
of the cries of my fellow Marines who lay in pools of blood
in rice paddies in Vietnam over three decades ago, their agonized
Voices serving as grappling hooks to snare a brother Marines'
attention in the cacophony of battle so a corpsman might patch
their wounds, or a brother might sling them over his shoulder
and carry them to safety. We were trained then to give
our lives for our dead and wounded, and that feeling swept over
me as I rushed to aid the cry of mortality.
Unable to hear exactly
what the man was crying about, I exited the subway and turned
and faced him. I quickly scanned his body for signs of
blood, my eyes finally resting on his shriveled, pruned, unshaven
At first I thought
he was blind and seeking someone to guide him down into the
subway, or, disoriented and needing a helping hand to steer
him in the right direction since Union Square was under construction
and fences blocked one's passage except at hard-to-find exits,
poorly marked even for the most alert.
I shoved my face into his
to offer my assistance. Then his words once again brayed
out of his mouth.
me! Please...help feed me!"
stood staring into his vacuous eyes. They were a
dead man's eyes, lifeless orbs pressed into hollow sockets of
shrunken skin pallored by the draining of life's nutrients.
I saw the white gauze of cataracts spider webbing themselves
tightly around his pupils, choking the light. He looked
through me, as though I were not there.
The wattle on his neck
shuddered and trembled as he lifted his jaw slightly and blared
the words in my face, "Please... help feed me! Please...
help feed me!"
We were nearly nose
to nose. His eyes drilled mine.
I searched for any sign of life, any faint spark of humanness
left in the stooped shell of the human beings' mourning for
life's treasures--food and shelter.
I saw no life in
his reflection. He was a living dead soul.
Emptiness ruled his
eyes. Again, his plea bleating off my cheeks as he kept
the cadence of his of his cry alive, "Please...help feed
me! Please... help feed me."
I can't explain why
I did what I did next, but I just did it.
I turned and walked
The old man's Voice
chased after me, not specifically, randomly, as any wounded
creature's pleas fall upon the universe's ears, searching for
that last strand of Hope that has long ago marched in another
direction and disappeared upon the horizon.
I walked neither fast nor slow away from his mourning place.
Like one shying from a leper, I had recoiled from his numbness
as a human being. I had seen him cannibalizing his self,
eating his own humanity.
I felt cold
think I was heartless, or uncaring in my action, and condemn
me for being so heartless like all those other people who, exiting
or entering the subway, took a wide swath around the old man,
plugging their ears to his remorseful reminder that the dead
live in waiting for death--that human deprivation comes not
from the hunger of the body but from the starvation of the soul.
They, like me, knew no food could sate the man's hunger for
life, for in his Voice was the resignation of all Hope.
I had wanted
to help the man, not feed him. I had wanted to offer
my resources to steer him toward some destination, but he had
none. He was a solitary soul, frozen in time and
space, spluttering his last feeble pleas for sustenance.
I would have
carried him anywhere had he needed such assistance; guided him
to where ever he wanted to go. But he wanted to go no
where. He only wished to cry and die. Even
when I stood staring into his face he did not see me.
I was a nothing to him. He had given up, all of
him, except that instinct to cry out in the last moments of
sorrow when life hangs on a thin thread of the soul's fecal
material, the remnants of a wasted life.
had died that way. He died in his own waste, crying
like a wounded beast for salvation he knew was beyond his grasp.
Perhaps that's why I turned away and let the man's pleas ricochet
off my back. I knew there wasn't enough money to
salve the scars of the man's soul. Something inside me warned
his Hope in living had long since spluttered its last flicker
and his cries were like a blind man trying to strike a used
match to life.
when the man wailing by the subway was a small child, someone
squashed his will for life. They planted the Seeds of Terror
in his soul, trampled his Hope for Life, perhaps ground it continuously
with their heel so he could grow was Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency. His barren life left him standing at the
ledge of death, crying for his mother's milk by a subway in
New York City, begging for any breast to suckle to nourish him
just enough so that he might cry out again and again until there
was no breath left, no Terrorism of the Soul left to exhaust
through his wailing..
I felt the weight
of his Terrorism. As a child I fought Emotional
Terrorism with all my might, vowing to not live under its yoke,
to not wallow in its vile Fear, or the ugliness of its Intimidation
and be sucked into the quagmire of Complacency where Hope dimmed
with each beat of the heart, where the magic of dreams become
nightmares that come true, and pots of gold promised at the
end of rainbows are full of chunks of coal. In my own way, I
had stood by my Terrorized Subway of the Soul, screaming "Please...feed
me.... Please feed me!" and watched as those around me
shunned my desolation, cut wide swaths around the decay that
had turned me into human waste. Yes, I understood the
man too well.
I knew the emptiness
in the man's eyes and the sorrow of his Voice.
I knew that the man
inside had died, leaving only the shell of a human being to
wail for food. Years ago part of me had died that way
in the pits of my alcoholism, when I had become a nothing, a
nobody pleading for resurrection.
The Terrorism of
life had won the battle over this man. He was a
walking graveyard of Dismay, a symbol of the need for Vigilance--the
kind one cannot give to another, the kind that must rise out
of the rocks from within one's soul, driven upward by a final,
primal desire to live that overpowers the final, manufactured
desire to die.
I only hoped the
man saw in my eyes that I was a soul brother...that I had been
where he had been, that I had risen out of the primordial slime
of self-Terrorism by reaching out not for more food to fuel
my sickness, but for help to relight the Candle of Vigilance.
I knew words, money, even
food could not spark him back to life. Only his
will to live could save him, even if was only a spark.
As his Voice trailed
behind me, I wondered what he might have become had his parents
taken the Pledge of Vigilance, if they had vowed to battle his
Courage, his Intimidation with Conviction and his Complacency
with Action. He had become a symbol of Complacency
of Life, a nesting host for the fleas of Terrorism.
As I write this,
I am looking out my apartment window into the night's sky at
the Tribute of Lights. The Tribute of Lights is
two shafts of light spearing up from Ground Zero to honor
those who died on September 11. But they, like the
old man at the subway, are gasping their last breath.
At 11 p.m. tonight, the 88 searchlights that comprise the two
beams will be extinguished. There isn't enough funds
to feed them. Like the old man at the subway, the
Lights will starve to death for lack of Vigilance.
No one in the city
has raised the torch high enough to make the lights shine beyond
this date, 11 p.m. April 13. When I
publish this story tomorrow morning, April 14, the lights will
The Sentinels of
Vigilance will fade into memories rather realities.
Perhaps, I thought, when the lights die, the old man at the
subway will also pass.
While the people of New York City and the world turn their backs
on keeping the lights of Vigilance alive, so do those who pass
the old man's fragile frame ignore his cry for life.
The dead are dead.
I am sad.
Sad the lights will die in a whimper, sad the old man whimpers
in his death.
But I will vow harder tomorrow
to stay Vigilant. I will remember what the old man could
have been had he lived under the principles of the Pledge of
Vigilance. And I will do all within my power to
make that Pledge available to all the parents of future old
men who might end their lives at a subway entrance, yelling
far too late in their lives, "Please, help feed me!
Please, help feed me!"
Go To April 13--Extinguishing The
Lights Of Vigilance