Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bottomless Grief

Walking my cousin Judy around lower Manhattan Sunday morning, we found ourselves close to the 911 Memorial. You used to have to reserve a time slot for a visit weeks in advance online, but now your chances are pretty good of getting a ticket on the spot. Judy lives in Rhode Island and hadn't seen it yet, so we got on the short line and went in with her.

For all the agita that marked the process of deciding what should be done at the site, the memorial now seems inevitable, as if this had been the only way the fall of the towers and all it meant could have been commemorated, though of course there were certainly other possibilities that could have turned out just as well or maybe better. This is the one that was chosen and built, and the one visitors now include among highlights of their time in New York.

The picture above shows what used to be the footprint of the North Tower. It's now a square pit with water cascading from its rim into a pool far below, then flowing into a second smaller square chasm whose depths can't be seen from ground level. There's an identical downward fountain on the South Tower footprint.

The designers certainly must have had some specific intentions for what visitors would think and feel as they stand around the edges and watch the water fall and flow into the darkness. But in a memorial as vast as this one, I expect the most lasting impressions are random and personal.

It was windy on Sunday, and strong gusts played hard across the face of the cascades, turning their vertical streams into rhythmic horizontal waves of spume that sent clouds of fine white spray over viewers on the downwind side. As John Lennon is supposed to have said, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

Pam noticed that if you reach down below the stone barrier where the names of the dead are inscribed, you can put your fingers into the water before it begins its descent. "Touch it," she said to Judy. "It feels like you're touching the movement of the universe."

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