Catharsis at official 9/11 memorial

Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook our nation to the core. But if you think about it, 9/11 never really released us from its firm grip.

The horrific images of the destruction of the Twin Towers were seared into our minds that day — along with the burning field in Pennsylvania and the damaged side of the Pentagon — and we’re still wondering how we can properly remember our loss, honor our heroes, feel our pain and begin to heal.

The opening of the 9/11 Memorial on Ground Zero this past Monday was just what we needed as a nation. As The Associated Press reported, “Exactly 10 years ago, Ground Zero was a smoking, fire-spitting tomb, a ghastly pile of rubble and human remains. On Monday it was a place of serenity ? an expanse of trees and water in the middle of a bustling city.”

This major difference in landscape offers us beauty, hope and healing constructed from profound events that were just the opposite.

The memorial consists of two square pools, each roughly an acre in size, that stand where the towers used to. Cascading water flows into the squares from the edges. The pools are outlined in bronze, where the names of the victims are inscribed.

Trees shade the rest of the site, and there is also a museum building that looks like a shard of glass and houses relics of the towers and other exhibits. This design was selected through a worldwide competition in 2003 and is the work of architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker.

The 9/11 Memorial parallels the sober concept of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In the documentary “A Strong, Clear Vision,” Maya Lin, the winner of the design contest for the memorial that was dedicated in 1982, said she envisioned the black slab that is cut into the earth and etched with the names of veterans to focus on “the people, not the politics, (because) only when you accept the pain, only when you accept the death, can you come away from it and overcome it … If you can’t accept death, you’ll never get over it.”

On the website of the 9/11 Memorial, the designers said the pools “are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence” caused by our loss. The trees surrounding the pools also continue the memorial’s statement: “These trees, like memory itself, demand the care and nurturing of those who visit and tend them. They remember life with living forms and serve as living representations of the destruction and renewal of life in their own annual cycles. The result is a memorial that expresses both the incalculable loss of life and its consoling regeneration,” the selection jury said.

Though flag-filled displays and emotional ceremonies will be an annual part of what has become known as Patriot Day, the permanence and dignity of the 9/11 Memorial give us the opportunity to enter into the stark, sober process of healing.

9/11 is a very sensitive part of our history — it needs the quiet reflection offered by the waterfalls and trees of the memorial so we can begin to understand the tragedy, how it changed us and how we must live with and move on from the impact of the terrible day.

 

Reach the columnist at jlgunthe@asu.edu Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.


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