This is a number of great controversy. In
the Cabala, it is the number of the eleven evil sephirots, in contrast
with the ten divine sephirot; in
alchemy it was the number of the perfect state.
As September 11th drew near this year, we talked about trying to find a babysitter so we could go out for a nice dinner, maybe revisit the site of those first sparks. Instead, we ended up sitting, numb, by the light of the TV, bearing witness to a different, sickening, falling. Every once in awhile, we whispered "Happy anniversary," to each other, our voices flat with grief.
September 11th used to have such a glow around it for me, such a sacred hum. Now I can barely look at that square, that number, on the calendar. I can barely think of all the numbers -- the numbers of the dead and the missing, the numbers of bereaved loved ones, the numbers that, as Giuliani had promised, are more than we can bear. Try as I might, I canít wrap my mind around such staggering statistics, but one number wonít leave me alone.
It keeps popping into my head, showing up wherever I turn. Eleven, that controversial number. Eleven, the dark day on the calendar. Eleven, the flight number of the first plane that struck. Eleven, the shape the twin towers made against the sky, two huge digits in silhouette.
My friend Catherine has taken Flight 11 in the past. "I donít like to fly," she said, "but I felt okay about getting on that plane since 11 is the number of eternity."
The hijackers knew they were headed toward eternity. A letter that was found in the wreckage reads in part, in translation, "Let your chest be open because itís only moments before you begin a happy life and eternal bliss with the Prophets and the veracious and martyrs and the righteous and these are the best of companionsÖ And when the plane takes off, remember the supplication of travels, for you are traveling to God, and what a beautiful travel!"
Happy life. Eternal bliss. Beautiful travel. My mind canít accept those words in relation to September 11th. My brain will simply not admit them into its folds.
eleven 1. Number of incompleteness,
disorganization, disintegration, one beyond ten yet one short of twelve (Gen.
32:22, Deut 1:2; Matt. 20:6); a. Eleven sons (Gen. 35:16, 18; 37:9); b. Goatís
hair, sin offering (Exod. 26:7); c. The eleventh "little horn" (Dan.
7). 2. Number of lawlessness, disorder, the Antichrist.
I donít know whether the number 11 is significant to Islamic fundamentalists. I donít know whether it played a part in choosing the date for the attacks, although I know some people think 9-11 was a nod to the number we dial in case of emergency.
Some transcripts from the 911 WTC calls:
09:09:14 MC STATES -- 2 WTC PEOPLE ARE JUMPING OUT OF THE SIDE OF A LARGE HOLE -- POSSIBLY NO ONE CATCHING THEM.
09:12:18 MC STS -- ON 106 FLOOR ABOUT 100 PEOPLE IN ROOM -- NEED DIRECTIONS ON HOW TO STAY ALIVE.
09:17:39 MC STS ON 105 FLOOR -- STAIRS COLLAPSE.
09:36:33 FC STS -- THEY ARE STUCK THEY ARE STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR... STS THEY ARE DYING.
09:47:15 FC STS -- 2 WTC FLOOR 105. FLOOR UNDERNEATH HER -- COLLAPSE.
09:49:21 1 WTC 20 PEOPLE ON THE TOP WAVING. THEY ARE ALIVE PLEASE SEND HELP.
All those people. My mind grazes against the immensity of their fear and pain, the immensity of their numbers, then buckles. My mind turns to eleven, the cold comfort of a number I can grasp, as chills run down my legs, as nausea rips through me, as the towers, the majestic 11 they created together, repeatedly crumble to the ground inside my brain -- one, then the other; one then the other.
I donít know why but all of a sudden
Iím feeling sick inside, like the part of me thatís three wants to
come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them tight and bite down on
my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven.
My son will be eleven in two days. Most of the time, he seems older than me. I am three times his age. 33, my favorite number. The part of me thatís three has been coming out of my eyes a lot lately. I canít seem to stop crying.
I read somewhere that when the number 11 keeps popping up, it means an angel is with you. I wish I could believe this. The hijackers believed in angels; part of the same letter reads "the angels guard you even though you may not be aware."
I am trying so hard to be aware, so hard to be awake. Thatís all I can do, in the wake of the attacks, be as awake and aware as I possibly can be -- awake to danger, sure, but awake to awe, too, maybe even to angels. Who knows when a plane is going to crash through our own walls? Who knows when weíre going to touch a doorknob swabbed with small pox and blithely bring it home? Who knows when weíre going to taste our last white-fleshed nectarine, or run our hands down our loverís back for the last time? Iím trying to soak everything in while I can. Iím trying to be as open, as alive, as possible. Iím trying to be peace, even as the numbers keep crashing down on my head. I want peace to ripple out of me, soothe the turbulent fabric of the air.
"Eleven is the Peace Maker" writes Dee Finney on her Website about the number. That is the aspect of eleven I want to claim -- not the chaos, not the evil. Maybe the number wonít leave me alone because it is nudging me to work towards peace, infusing it with the love I first found on the 11th so many years ago. In reply, I am putting together an evening of performance where local artists can respond to the events of September 11th, in the hopes of promoting peace and tolerance in our community while raising money for relief efforts. I am naming the show "Eleven."
A couple of years ago, a friend told me that when
the clock reads 11:11, a door to infinity opens, and if you make a wish, it is
more likely to come true than at any other time. I didnít think much of this
at first -- it sounded sweet, but kind of silly. Thatís changed now, just as
everything else has changed around me, inside me. Now, if I happen to glance at
the clock when it reads 11:11, I canít help it -- I close my eyes and wish and
wish and wish.