Death's Leap Of Faith--Terrorism or Courage?


September 19, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 372
Eulogy To Char
The Last Breath Of Courage

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, September 19--My mother-in-law died yesterday.  It was a peaceful death.  She was sitting in a chair in Helena, Montana.   She went fast, without the lingering illnesses that an 88-year-old is subject to.  Her greatest fear of death was that she would "linger," and be infirmed.  
       My wife and older daughter, and grandson Angus, a September 11th baby just over three months old, left this morning to be with the family in Montana.   
       My wife's father  had called within ten minutes of Char's passing.  Almost simultaneously, my computer screen went on the blink.    It turned a pastel pink, and has remained that way ever since.  I am typing this with a rose-glow background.  
       I figure Char is telling me something--that she's still around, watching, worrying, as mothers do, about her child, her grandchildren, her great grandchildren.  It's her way of telling me she's now a  Mother-In-Law of Vigilance, a Grandmother of Vigilance, and a Great Grandmother of Vigilance.   She's joined the Vigilant in the sky, watching over us all.   

      Char came from strong German roots.  Her maiden name was Schneider.  I used to call her Hitler Jugund (child), out of earshot of course.   She was a very strong woman with whom I butted egos more than once.    When she visited, we had to oil the walls to make room for her ego and mine to coexist.   We were like two sumo wrestlers, never taking our eyes off the other, always itching to get the other in some headlock over a point, a philosophy, or an opinion.
       Char carried her egotism to her death.   She argued with doctors all the time about impending death.
       Doctors working with the aged try to prepare them for death.   They attempt to joke about it.   They make small talk about it.   Some just state the facts that this ailment or that is part of the process of dying, and to attend to certain problems is just a matter of prolonging the inevitable.
       Char would hear none of that.
       She took issue with her doctors.  She wasn't ready to die, even if the Grim Reaper's scythe was hissing over her head and the sound of his whetstone could be heard sharpening his scythe's blade.
       I grew to appreciate her attitude.
       She was an active octogenarian, even though her mobility was restricted by much pain and weight she couldn't lose until her most later years.   She and her husband took numerous trips each year, rejecting the idea they were to sit in some room and wait for the final sunset.   We always worried about them driving.
      Char was a matriarch.   Few would question she ran the family. or at least was the family's "front-man!"  
      She was a World War II mother, raising her three children while Stan, her husband fought in the war.   Women, historically, made a giant breakthrough during the war.  They proved their independence to survive and prosper on their own, and to mix the ability to be both a homemaker and a worker.  Some say the feminist movement started when America's backbone comprised women supporting the nation while the men fought in distant lands.

       Char's Teutonic constitution added to her zealous, feminine/masculine nature.   She was raised by "Aunt Minnie," not her parents, her mother died when she was seven and her dad remarried.  She learned early to "fend for herself."    She had an older sister, Peggy, who is still alive and active.   They lived near the poverty line, a rugged simple life of survival.
        Char fought and sought for a better life, and got it.   Financially, she was secure because she married a man from the East Coast who rose to be key cog in Montana mining.  Like Char, he was a strong Republican who provided oversight to various government budgets in his spare time.
        Socially, Char weaved among the ranks of Montana's "rugged individualistic elite."   She knew everyone and everyone knew her.  If they didn't know who she was, she let them know.
        Religiously, she was a devout Catholic and offered her time and skills in working with different marginalized elements of the community, including acting as a board member for a home dedicated to helping unwed mothers. She was a member of the Lewis and Clark Republican Woman's Club, serving as parliamentarian for over 25 years.
        Early in her marriage, she was instrumental in getting the kindergarten started in the public schools as well as assisting in the formation of an American Legion baseball team.  She had a keen interest in the scouting program being a leader for both Girl Scouts and Brownies.  She was a trainer for Girl Scout leaders in the Helena district and served as a counselor at Camp Thunderbird (a scout camp north of Helena).  She was also a den mother for the Cub Scouts.  Char was a busy volunteer, spending energy and time as Director and Trustee for the YWCA.  She and her husband started the Recreation Council in East Helena.  After her husband became the manager of the East Helena smelter, she was renowned as the "hostess with the mostess."
        Char was extremely active in sports, an avid fisherman and an accomplished gardener.  No one dared hint he or she had a more beautiful flowers or yummier raspberries. She won several golfing trophies and a favorite pastime was boating at 'her' Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River.  In addition to her daughter, she was blessed with two sons, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
       One might say, she lived a rich,  fruitful, boisterous life.  She was always outspoken, always determined to be right, and, she usually was.

Young Char look-alike

      Perhaps that's where we rubbed each other wrong.   I liked being the "most right," and when confronted with someone who would challenge my "righteousness," I bristled.    Char challenged me frequently.  Neither of us backed down from the other.
       On one occasion I banned Char from my house.    My ego exploded, and for the next five years when they came to visit, I removed myself from the house, refusing to concede that my ego had ruled by mouth.  Eventually, we normalized relations, but it was not unlike a Palestinian-Israel pact, with each side keeping a wary eye on the other, always prepared for the next "attack."
        I had been rather crude in my attack, telling Char to remove her "fat Nazi ass," from my house, and if she ever wanted to visit the grandchildren she could do so from the street, but not set foot on my property.   Unfortunately, the fuel that sparked the battle was over a tip left for a waiter.  I didn't think she'd tipped enough, and added some.  That was kindling exploding the unstable plutonium of our relationship.    The tip was only the fuse; our egos were the bombs.
        In world affairs, most battles between nations result from two forces refusing to back down over some small issue each side magnifies.   When war results, the innocent are victimized. 
      My behavior with Char created great strain on my wife and children.  They got caught in my egotistic crossfire.    Char had her own angst over the issue, and when we finally agreed to meet after many years of stonewalling each other, I wondered how I had let myself get so out of line with my duty to protect my children's relation with their grandmother.    By default, I forced them to take sides either with me or "gaga."    Gaga was a nickname I gave Char when the kids were very small--it was the name of a Gorilla at the San Diego Zoo.  I just couldn't leave well enough alone.


Gorilla + Grandma = GaGa

      These past few years, however, Char and I grew into another relationship.  I would call it a Mature Vigilant Relationship.   I think we both realized how immature we had been with our egos, and understood the fallout from our conflict cast shadows on the children.  
       Fortunately, my wife and I always encouraged our two daughters to think for themselves.  I insisted that their opinions, not mine, were most important.   Our house rule was to "think for yourself."   Perhaps that's one why is a die-hard Republican Federal Special Agent and the other is a die-hard Democrat, Masters of Divinity social justice activist.   Neither was under-the-gun to agree with my opinion their grandmother was obstinate, Hitlarian, and supercilious--virtues of character I grew to appreciate over time.
       I forgot to give Char credit for her stance on life.  She grew up as I had, with nothing in relation to what she wanted.   She learned to fight for everything she had, and to achieve in spite of obstacles that often hindered those who came from "the other side of the tracks."   What she acquired in life was the Courage to stand up to her Fears, the Conviction to overcome her Intimidations, and the ability to take Right Actions rather than fall victim to the quagmire of Complacency that bogs down so many of their Hopes and Dreams.
       I learned to fight hard and long as a child for my dreams and beliefs.  Like Char, I would not let them go.  I held onto them with an iron fist, for they were my jewels, just as her opinions were hers.   It took a war with Char for me to realize the real importance wasn't which of us was right, but doing what was right for the children, and eventually for the grandchildren.
      On the day of her death, another event coincided to remind me Char's legacy hadn't died.

                                                                 * * * * * * * * * *
      It centered around a controversial sculpture by Eric Fischl titled "Tumbling Woman" displayed at Rockefeller Center.  The  bronze artwork represented those who jumped or fell to their deaths from the World Trade Center on September 11.  

     Last week I noticed the statue.  My wife and I were on our way to take pictures of Fifth Avenue store fronts, and took the passageway that led us past the statue.   I paused and studied it.  I didn't read the inscription, but noticed the Rodin nature of the figure.  The figure was balanced on her head, legs splayed and arms reaching up.   It reminded me of Rodin's work--rough emotional passion--a raw exhibit of human nature's strength in the most difficult of situations.
      Later, I was to realize this was a statue of a woman who jumped from the World Trade Center--Fischl's tribute to those who had died that day by choosing the moment of their death, rather than be victimized by the fire and smoke and Terror of letting death take them.
      I had been at Ground Zero that day, and witnessed the bodies falling from the windows, flailing as they tumbled down at over a hundred miles an hour.    I knew each had chosen their death.   I knew what kind of courage it took to leap to one's death.
      But New Yorkers didn't see it that way.   They castigated the art as "horrible" and "sickening" and "too graphic" and forced the statue's removal last night.   Rodin's works were also initially treated as "grotesque" symbols of human nature and snubbed, but over time, his work was considered "brilliant."
      Raw humanism is hard for most people to take.
      I thought of Char in respect to the statue.

Charlotte Schneider Lane

     In her own way, I'm sure she had chosen to "leap from life."   She knew the horrors of a "suffering death," and refused to participate in the idea she should concede life and let old age take its toll.   
      Knowing her as well as I did--from a purely egotistical viewpoint--I believe she was fighting death every inch of the way, cheating it out of its "suffering moments."   I believe she chose to "leap from life" rather than have death's hand slowly, agonizingly choke life out of her and
she just let go.
      I find it troublesome that society looks upon the statue of the "Tumbling Woman" as something "grotesque."    I felt strength from the statue, and elegance.   Fischl fashioned his work with love and respect--and the woman's pose was almost swan-like, strikingly powerful even at the moment of impact.  It was a statue of sacrifice, and radiated the power of life at the moment of a horrible death.
      I also believed those righteous critics of the statue never faced death.   Having faced it more than once in my life, I know the power of Courage in the face of fear.  It rises up from within one's inner self and makes choices that others may not make.  

      I remember being pinned down with bullets chewing all around, and choosing to rise and rush the enemy rather than lay there and die a certain death.   I knew death was imminent my choice was the desire to cheat death out of its moment of fear, when we grovel for our lives rather than turn them over with pride and dignity.
      I don't think those who leaped from the buildings died in fear.    Like Char, they refused to face death in a cower, but rather threw back their shoulders and offered themselves to die with all the power of life.
     While that may sound paradoxical, it's not.   One can die with a whimper or a bang, as Robert Frost says.    And the "whimper," I believe, simply means one can die in grips of fear, while the "bang" means one can die with the courage of life on their lips.
      Char's life was constructed out of Courage.   It is doubtful her last breath was of Fear, but rather a full inhalation of a life well lived, a proud life, a life composed of her ability to stand up for what she believed, regardless of its consequences.
      I believe those who leapt from the World Trade Centers took a long, deep breath of life before they leapt.    I could hear that breath being taken in the Tumbling Woman statue as I passed it the other day.  At the time I didn't know what it was.  But I do today.
      It was Char taking one last Vigilant breath.  It was all the Sentinels of Vigilance taking their last breath.
      I only wish the world could hear them too.

Go To September 18--Placenta of Vigilance

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