The VigilanceVoice

Sunday-- April 14, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 215

"Please...Help Feed Me! 
Please...Help Feed Me!"
A lost soul's cry of Terror
Cliff McKenzie
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.
         Over 2,800 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 starvation.
         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 face.
        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.
       " feed me! feed me!"
       I 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, " 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 away.
        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 inside.
         Some might 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.
         My step-father 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.
         Years ago, 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 Fear with 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 be dead.
        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!"
       Semper Vigilantes.

 Go To April 13--Extinguishing The Lights Of Vigilance

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