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May 3, 2005
Bathtime: Noodle sits beside me in bed, repeatedly licking her paw and scrubbing behind her ear. So clean, the cats, and so limber -- you try washing the soles of your feet with your tongue. You'll have a new respect for them.

She also loves falling water of any kind, though: the sink, the filling bathtub, the watering can, the garden hose. She stands on her hind feet by the bathtub and watches intently as I soak in it, reaching with a paw for any drop of water within striking distance. Sometimes I go into the bathroom in the morning and there are pawprints in the sink.

She and What's-Her-Name spent the other night outside in the rain by mistake -- they sneaked out before supper for a game of chase and we didn't realize they were gone until nobody came down for breakfast this morning. They came in surprisingly dry, though: rain is no great challenge to a cat. You can always hide under the car or the picnic table.

Try as I might, though, I have yet to entice Noodle into the bathtub. Cats just can't swim, I guess; I've never known one who could, anyway, and I've known a lot of cats in my day. That's a pity, really: a universe of water fun denied them, but I'm sure they know best.

Neither Noodle nor What's-Her-Name is with me this morning. Nor is Q. I am far away in an Oklahoma City hotel room, just me and the radio so far, having a leisurely breakfast before my day here begins. In and out, these trips, just time enough to meet the people and begin to enjoy them and then it's time to go. I'll be back in the air by evening, not thirty hours after I arrived here.

There was one thing here I had to see, though, and the bishop and his wife took me over there last night after we were finished for the evening. Oklahoma City has finished its memorial park commemorating the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Ours at the World Trade Center site is still in the planning stages. The two bombings join us: the bishop showed me where he was standing that day, where the road was upon which the truck was parked and left there to kill while the murderer sauntered off into the crowd. It is now a reflecting pool, calm and still, showing us the moon and the stars of the night sky. Where the building was, there are chairs. One for each victim. The large chairs are the adults; the little ones are the children. The chair sculptures are lit from within, so you can read each person's name from the path.

The chairs are beautiful, I told the bishop. I told him they reminded me of the final scene in "Our Town," in which the beloved dead sit in chairs and talk, less and less about earthly sorrows and more and more about the stars. I told him about how comforting New Yorkers have found the two beams of light that reach from the WTC site into the night sky and dissipate into it, about how many of us wish they could stay there for ever, reaching into heaven every night, for as long as there is anyone to remember.

We walked a bit, saw the battered partial wall of the building, the informal memorials hung on the chainlink fence. Then we drove back to the hotel, past the sleek modern buildings, restaurants, stores, bright lights of a recovered downtown. Life goes on, of course. New things come into being. The chairs remain, empty, marking the spot of great loss.

They're missing it all. Missing their cats and their dogs, their kitchens, their children's graduations, their sons' weddings. They died before they met the person they would have married, before ever having a grandchild, before getting out of the service. They're missing the rest of ordinary life, and we can't abide that. None of us want to leave here.

But they have a different view now. We don't like that, either: we want them as they were, not as they are, and that is not on the table.

I must pack and check out of my room. Get to the airport this afternoon and head home. Walk through the garden in the dark and into the house, climb the stairs and see Noodle curled up on the bed, fast asleep, Q in the office on the computer. Ordinary life: I am not yet finished with mine.
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