Days of Infamy

In “Much Ado About Nothing”, Act II Scene i, the Bard has the character of Beatrice explain that her personality is the result of what happened on the day she was born:

BEATRICE
No, sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there
was a star danced, and under that was I born.
Cousins, God give you joy!

Irrespective of the spurious claims of astrology, Beatrice believes that because of this historic event in the sky, the path of her life was going to be forever marked by it. I will take the rather dangerous step of saying that I disagree with Shakespeare on this point, for the notion that you are somehow constrained by the date on which you happen to have been born, seems to me to deny what it means to be a human being in the first place. And this is something we ought to keep in mind this weekend.

An historical event can, of course, have significant meaning and real impact long beyond when the event took place. Those of us in the United States will be confronted with this reality this coming Sunday, as we mark the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on this country. Here in Washington D.C., for example, security is already being noticeably ratcheted up around town, in part thanks to some intercepted information about possible attacks on our train systems, and the fact that terrorists may see the anniversary as a perfect time to try to hit back at this country for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

September 11th does not hold the same significance for everyone around the world, of course, but the date becomes a problem if you are a citizen or a resident of this country. Those of my readers who are fellow Catalans, or who have spent time in Barcelona and other places in Catalonia, know that September 11th is Catalonia’s national day. If you are a Catalan-American, such as yours truly, then you may very well find it awkward to host a dinner party or the like to celebrate Catalan culture and history, when friends and neighbors are mourning the loss of loved ones.

It is interesting to note that when it comes to most – though not all – historical figures, we tend to mark their birthdays rather than the days they died. We turn on the radio or open a newspaper, and we will spy a little piece mentioning that it is the birthday of a figure such as Mozart, or George Washington, or Frederick Douglas. By contrast, in the Catholic Church to which I belong, with the exception of the Blessed Virgin, and St. John the Baptist, we do not celebrate the birthdays of a saint, but rather the date of their death. We recognize that having lived an extraordinarily life of goodness, they have passed on into eternity ahead of us, and that is a birthday of sorts which we will all hope to achieve.

In a somewhat different vein, I have a couple of American friends/acquaintances whose birthdays are on September 11th, though none of them are within a close enough distance whereby I would do my duty and take them out for the evening. Being now in their 20’s and 30’s, they were born long before 2001, of course, but unfortunately for the rest of their lives they are going to have to endure things like people grimacing when they answer the question, “So when is your birthday?”. This will be followed by comments like, “Wow, I’m sorry.”

I would submit that their response should be the aggressive opposite of the resignation one might expect, and they should retort: “Well *I’m* not sorry.”

No one should ever be made to feel sorry for being alive, even if one is not conscious of making such a statement about another person. Whether you are smart, good-looking, or successful, or are you ignorant, infirm, or poor, you came to experience the gift of life. And if one is to experience that great gift, but must do so tied to a day of historical infamy – like September 11th for our generation, or December 7th, for that of our grandparents – then I say, so be it, and let us celebrate it, regardless.

We should not have to apologize for choosing to be grateful for the lives of those we care for, because their birthday happens to coincide with the anniversary of a tragic event, even one of epic proportions. The point, after all, is to remember that ours is a culture of life, not a bizarre subculture that embraces infernal practices like the use of suicide bombing. While those who were senselessly murdered on September 11th and their families will always have our sympathy, we cannot forget that the point of combating evil is not to live in the valley of the shadow of death. It is, rather, to walk through it.


The Valley of the Shadow of Death by George Inness (1867)
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College

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One thought on “Days of Infamy

  1. Well written. I want to go back and re-read it later tonight. It’s interesting you said we note more birthdays than death days. I was telling friends this past week that I had belatedly started entering “dates of note” for September on my desk calendar and that looking over it, it was more about “who died” or ” what dead person’s birthday it was,.” Perhaps it’s the month, but I do feel I need to put some more living into my Septembers.

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