Hello, Everybody—nice seeing you again.
One thing that struck me about the bombings in London was how quickly the English people got out there with their photocopied flyers with the pictures of their missing friends and family members. I remember going to work in New York after the attacks in 2001 and walking past the thousands of flyers posted everywhere. For a while it seemed as if every vertical surface in the city was papered over with hundreds of flyers, all very similar in their message and with the same seemingly inevitable design: At the top the word “Missing” in large letters, centered, then below that a photo, also centered, and a caption giving the person’s name, then some particulars: “works on the 84th floor,” “works in the North Tower,” “last seen on her way to a meeting in Windows on the World,” and a phone number to call with information--if there ever was any information.
Last February the city medical examiner’s office announced that there were over 1,200 people “known to have been killed” in the World Trade Center attacks whom they still could not identify, and so they were going to stop trying. (And by “people” they meant 9,726 bits of human remains that have now been dried and stored in “deterioration-proof” pouches.) How is it that those people are KNOWN to have been killed? There’s no body, not even a definitive piece of body, for any of them. Don’t they mean that these people are presumed dead, or have been presumed dead for a while? I think there are statutes that govern when you can have someone declared legally dead, but the presumption of death is purely personal; I guess it varies from person to person.
I was watching the BBC World News and a reporter was talking to some of the people who were distributing their flyers outside one of the underground stations. There was a young woman holding a flyer with a picture of her fiance, and the reporter asked her, “What kind of person is he?”--being very careful in his phrasing of the question, very self-consciously using the present tense so as not to imply that the guy is dead. “Oh, he was just great,” the fiance began. In context, the past tense was a bit shocking. Yeah, she’s out there with her “missing” flyers, but you know what her assumption is. Probably the guy IS dead, but it seemed too soon for her to be saying so.
I wonder whether the English are more realistic about death than we are. Apparently there are plenty of Americans who think Natalee Holloway may still be alive. Natalee is the teenager from Alabama who went on a class trip to Aruba for her high school graduation, and was last seen on May 30 heading to the beach with three guys she’d met at a nightclub. Here’s a picture of one of the guys she was with that night, a photo that ran in the newspaper a day or two after she disappeared:
I find the picture caption really odd:”Joran Van Der Sloot (above l. with unidentified youth) was said by pals to have passionately kissed Natalee Holloway (l.) before she disappeared.” Okay, but who’s the guy in the dog collar standing with his head down, crying? Couldn’t Joran’s family supply any other pictures of him to run with the story about how he might have murdered some chick he picked up in a nightclub, they had to go with the one that makes him look like a crazed, sadistic pervert? The minute I saw this picture I presumed Natalee was dead. But her friends are still posting flyers all over Aruba, offering a reward for information about her whereabouts.
The “missing” posters from 2001 stayed up in New York well into 2002, through the winter and into the summer, fading, tearing, tattering: No one dared to take them down. They were the last traces of some of those people. The London medical examiner has only about 50 bodies to identify, so I hope they’ll match every one of them to a “missing” flyer and get things settled quickly.
Thanks for reading my blog entry, and may God bless.