One day – not too soon, I hope – I will die.

And when that tragic moment arrives, those who love me will be saddened. Then a nice person in rubber gloves will come along and squirt 409 spray on my desk. An hour later, some new guy will be sitting in my chair, typing his words on what used to be my keyboard.

Goodbye, hello!

That is what we do in America when people die. We note the passing. We clean up the mess. We honor the dead by living.

So now comes all the uproar over the mosque being proposed for two blocks from Ground Zero. Do Muslims have the same right as other religions to place their houses of worship where they see fit? Or is this location an intolerable affront to the people who died on 9/11? That, right there, is the core of the debate.

And it’s a passionate one.

But beneath the raw nerves is an assumption that hardly anyone is reflecting on this week. What makes ground sacred anyway? The simple fact that a tragedy occurred nearby? Clearly, we apply the theory inconsistently.

When a teenager is killed in a drunken-driving wreck, no one proposes we close the highway forever. When a person loses their battle with cancer, their apartment isn’t forever sealed.

And when I die — well, you already know what happens then.

Back in the ’90s, there was a long-running dispute in lower Manhattan about a new federal building where an African cemetery had been. The graveyard was partially built on. Several people noted that much of downtown once had been cemetery land, though no one proposed demolishing area buildings.

Death is always tragic, whether it arrives in ones and twos or by the thousands. Those left are always bereaved.

The mosque debate raises many questions. But before they can really be answered, maybe we should answer these:

What makes certain ground sacred? How long does it remain that way?


How many blocks constitute the sacred zone?

Who gets to decide?

The mother of that teenaged accident victim might have her own answer. I know I have some thoughts about the new guy who is suddenly sitting in my chair.

Ellis Henican is a Fox News contributor and columnist for Newsday and amNew York. This column originally appeared in amNewYork on August 20. 

E-mail ellis@henican.com. Follow him on Twitter.com/henican.

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