At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving…
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
~T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets
“Zero Summer” imagines the unimaginable horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet points to epiphanic awakening that transcend human imagination at the same time. T.S. Eliot, who coined this term in his “Four Quartets,” longed for that eternal summer, birthed out of the “still point,” where imagination is met with grace and truth.
As a grade school child in November 1963, I learned the import of the U.S. flag being lowered to half mast in response to the shocking and violent death of our President. The lowering of the flag was so rare when I was growing up, it had dramatic effect on all who passed by — something very sad had happened to our country, warranting our silence and our stillness.
Since 9/11/01, our flag has spent significant time at half mast, so much so that I’m befuddled instead of contemplative, puzzling over what the latest loss might be as there are so many, sometimes all happening in the same time frame. We no longer are silenced by this gesture of honor and respect and we certainly are not stilled, personally and corporately instigating and suffering the same mistakes against humanity over and over again.
Eliot wrote the prescient words of the Four Quartets in the midst of the WWII German bombing raids that destroyed people and neighborhoods. Perhaps he sensed the destruction he witnessed would not be the last time in history that evil visits the innocent, leaving them in ashes. There would be so many more losses to come, as Makoto Fujimura illustrates in his artistic depiction of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki transcending to an epiphany of the human imagination. And then the horror of 9/11/01.
There remains so much more sadness to be borne, such abundance of grief that our world has become overwhelmed and stricken and it seems we’ve lost all imagination for “a grace of sense”.
Eliot was right: we have yet to live in a Zero summer of endless hope and fruitfulness, of spiritual awakening and understanding. Where is it indeed?
We must return, as people of faith, as Eliot did, as Fujimura has, to that still point to which we are called on a day such as today. We must be stilled; we must be silenced. We must grieve the losses of this turning world and pray for release from the suffering we cause and we endure. Only in the asking, only in the kneeling down and pleading, are we surrounded by grace. A flag half lowered may have lost its power to punch our gut, but we are illuminated by the Light, a grace of senses on the move in our lives.
“There Are No Words” written on 9/11/2001
by Kitty Donohoe
there are no words there is no song
is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long
and when the stars have burned to dust
hand in hand we still will stand because we must
in one single hour in one single day
we were changed forever something taken away
and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone
that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own
all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone
all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on
can we ever forgive though we never will forget
can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet
we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty
we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny
and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart
we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart