By MICHAEL PERKINS
THIS WEEK, THE SPACE AT GROUND ZERO marks an anniversary that is slightly different from the annual reverences afforded the fallen of September 11, 2001. Even as we put a little more chronological, if not emotional, distance between ourselves and the unspeakable and obscene events that tore the fabric of history on that morning, we begin a second era of sorts, as we mark the first year of operation for the 9/11 Memorial that tries so nobly to advance, if not complete, the healing process. The site, specifically the pools marking the foundational footprints of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, is no less noble because it has been asked to provide an impossible service. Some things are beyond our reach, but that does not mean that the reaching effort should not be made. Something must endure that physically, visually states who our lost brothers and sisters were. And even a compromised version of that effort, wrested from people’s individual hearts and needs in an agonizing discussion, needs to be attempted.
Visiting the site just two months after its opening last year, I asked myself, how could we have done better, or more? Is there enough, just enough here, to fight off our lazy national habit of collective amnesia? Is there at least a start, marked on this spot, at trying to makes these names matter and persist in memory?
Every day, thousands ask that same question, and there are endless versions of the answer. It’s a gravesite, but a gravesite that is missing many of those being remembered. It is a memorial, but unlike most memorials, it is not located on a neutrally designated “elsewhere”, but on the actual place where the victims fell. It is a beautiful thing that evokes horror, and it is a place of horror where beauty is sorely needed to make going forward imaginable. Standing at the pool’s perimeters, you are struck silent, and you worry over the day when silence may not be the first response to this vista, as, properly, it still is at Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor. And we wish we could know that there was even one atom of comfort afforded by this effort to those left behind, many of whom were annihilated no less in spirit than their loved ones were in fact. If you ever pray here, that’s what you pray for.
Shooting the above image, I wanted to wait for the morning surge of visitors to clear away as completely as possible. I felt, and still feel, that the site itself is at last, a noble thing, and neither I nor any other people around it can help breaking the visual serenity it presents. My shot is also, now, a bit of a time machine, since the rebuilding of the WTC site is now nearer completion by a year. The weather that morning was flawless, in a way in which, on every other place on the earth, does not automatically trigger a feeling of foreboding. I wished I was a better photographer, or that, on that morning, I could become one, if even for an instant. Looking around, I saw many others making the same vain wish. And, in the end, I still feel that I left something untold. But, whatever I captured was at least my personal way of seeing it, and it was about as close to “right” as I was going to get.
And getting “as close we can” is what we have to settle for, at this point in time, in processing the events of 9/11. I am always struck, in reading the remembrances from surviving families and spouses, by how absent of hate and anger most of them are. They fight only to understand, to place it all in some kind of workable context for living. Many of us may never get there. However, life is a journey, and, today, as with all of the anniversaries of this tragedy, we have to hope that we can at least stay on the path toward discovery and peace. The memorial is the first step in that journey.
- NYC 9/11 memorial surpasses 4 million visitors (kfwbam.com)
One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.
THERE IS NO GREATER CANDY STORE FOR PHOTOGS than New York City. It is the complete range of human experience realized in steel and concrete. It is both a monument to our grandest dreams and a mausoleum for all our transgressions. It casts shadows that hide both joy and fear; it explodes in light that illuminates, in equal measure, the cracked face of the aged contender and the hopeful awe of the greenest newcomer. There is not another laboratory of human striving like it anywhere else on the planet. Period period period. Its collapses and soarings are always news to the observer. Bob Dylan once said that he who is not busy being born is busy dying. New York is, famously, always busy doing both.
I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline.
This month’s announcement that the new WTC 1 (built on the site of the old 6 World Trade Center building, itself a rather short edifice) has finally surged past the height of the Empire State Building (a repeat champ for height, given the strange twists of history) is a bittersweet bulletin at best. Cheers turned to tears turned back into cheers. In the long-view, the inevitable breathe-in-breathe-out rhythm of NYC’s centuries-old saga, the site’s entire loop from defeat to defiant rebirth is only a single pulse point. Still, on a purely emotional, even sentimental level, it’s thrilling to see spires spring from the ashes. The buildings themselves, along with their daily purposes and uses, hardly matter. In a city of symbols, they are affirmations in an age when we need to remain busy being born.