Harriet Freiberger: ‘Reflecting absence’ and remembering Sept. 11
“Reflecting absence . . .” A 58-ton welded piece of steel and a battered concrete staircase speak what words fail to say. We bury what cannot be buried and touch that which cannot be touched.
Monuments tell of lifetimes, satisfy the yearning that defines our singular species. All creatures share a primary instinct for survival and self defense, but only humans mark final resting places.
Before that day, in the second year of the new century, most of us had experienced unexplained disappearance as only the mystery behind a magician’s distracting cape, a trick played upon our senses. But what we watched on television was no illusion. One billion pounds of steel and concrete vanished, along with all the men and women who had been inside. On a clear, blue-sky day, a dark cloud rose from amid New York City, its skyline emptied of its tallest skyscrapers. What had been was no more.
September 11 happened 17 years ago. Children whose parents died at the hands of terrorists live among us today. Granite, steel and concrete rise again in the shape of a new tower. At its base rustling leaves of 400 sturdy oaks and the sound of rushing water becalm a surrounding plaza. There, wide stone-paved pathways converge around two huge openings into the earth, acre-size squares where the old twin structures once stood. From atop dark gray granite walls waterfalls cascade 30 feet into the depths of a hidden and seemingly bottomless blackness.
The magnitude of what is unseen lies below, in the September 11 Museum, between and beneath the two fountains. Above ground, its low angular exterior mirrors New York City’s skyscrapers while a separate transparent glass opens a view of the inner atrium and the column salvaged from the old towers.
Inside, emptiness takes shape along the narrowing passageway, down and deeper down, through seven levels. Mementos mesmerize, and memories echo in haunting voices the ones whose lives ended in that space on that day. Words and images coalesce at the bottommost level with the finality of bedrock.
“Reflecting absence . . .” A monument lies within a monument. Its outer simplicity unrevealing of the complexity within. I am an American. I understand.
Two buildings did not disappear by magic, but rather from the hatred that grew in closed minds of men who never pierced the walls of their own narrow lives. We, who are blessed to live in the breadth and breath of freedom that is unknown to such people, can only be mystified by their cruelty.
On this anniversary, national memorials return us to that which too often is taken for granted — two and a half centuries of a new idea’s birth and survival, the inheritance we share. Americans, we have become part of a bigger and bigger world. Some 327 million of us live within the rules set forth in 4,400 words that let each of us “pursue happiness” and allow others to do the same.
Having felt the impact of hate, we have the ability to grasp a bigger truth. To disagree is one thing; to hate is something else. We can open our minds to what we are saying to each other. Not by shouting louder, but instead, demonstrating that even with all our differences, our purposeful connection can take us to a place where doors are open to all.
Those who died remain not in emptiness. We who descend into a monument’s darkness become their final resting place. We mark their presence in the reality of hope that opens to the light from outside and into the future.
“Reflecting absence . . .” We remember. We stand upon the bedrock that is America.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.
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