Sunday, September 10, 2006

Two Anniversaries

Today is Monday, 11 September 2006.


As on CNN I watched the Twin Towers fall, I remembered a photograph I made of the skyline of Lower Manhattan on the day after the Great Blizzard of January, 1996.

The City was choked with snow. The night before, my wife being out of town to visit her parents, I journeyed on the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan, and roamed the city, photographing with the fastest film I could buy. The day after the Great Snow, I ferried to Manhattan, made more photos of a city bless-ed under snow, and, on the ferry home, standing on the stern, made a photo of the Lower Manhattan skyline.

A year later, after my wife and I had moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, formerly “Oil Capital of the World”, I made a photocopy of that photo, as I often do, so that I might crop the photo, experiment, find how best to frame it.

It was only after September 11 that I realized: in the photocopy, the light-coloured outer-skin of the Towers have disappeared, survived only by the faint smudges of their tops, suspended, as it were, without support, in the air.

As Sir Stephen Spender asked, in his poem, On the Photograph of a Friend, Dead, “Is this all we have?”

That September morn, my wife was at work at a public university library, I was at home, washing the breakfast dishes before retiring to my study and the demanding keyboard, and CNN was on, as it always is at our house, with my demanding to know what is happening in the world, when news broke of an airplane crashing into the North Tower.

I telephoned my wife, and we watched together, each in our own places and thoughts, as events unfolded, and the finally the Towers fell.

By one measure, the history of human civilization is the record of the growth of cities. Humanity began scattered and isolated, then slowly built hamlets, then villages, then towns, then cities, then many cities.

A city is not a pit of sin, but human lives, hopes, dreams, talents, sorrows, crimes and infinite kindnesses, the entire human experience compressed, combining in infinite patterns, so that each person, in company with each other, becomes finer together than they ever could have been apart.

New York City is the pinnacle of that process, the greatest city in the most powerful country in the history of the world.

I, having always been fascinated by and loved New York City, from at least the age of 8, I had followed the history of the Twin Towers.

As I watched them burn, knowing the construction, I knew they would collapse.

By phone, I initially assured my wife, in answer to her question, No, they won’t fall.

I wanted to give her a few minutes to adjust.

Then I called her back, said, Yes, it’s curtain wall construction, and they will fall.

And then they fell.

This is not all we have.

With ease and simplicity, in the wake of tragedy, anger and hate arrive.

But, where did the hijackers come from?

A generation ago, the USA funded what some now call “Islamo-fascist” groups, because they were fighting the Soviet Union. America said, “Kill the Soviets, because they’re not Islamic, they’re infidels.” That task accomplished, what was more natural, than to fight another “not Islamic infidels”: us, US, the USA.

Does not the Good Book say: “You reap what you sow”?

Once upon a time, the Twin Towers were the measure of the tallest buildings in the world.

One might have calculated their height by measuring with a ruler.

It is simple and easy to take the measure of the hate and violence of others, by measuring against the Golden Rule, and finding them wanting.

I wrote the first version of this essay on the first anniversary of 9-11, for a community service of Remembrance.

Five years after 9-11, I find myself still hoping: that we will, all of us, that is, humanity, measure ourselves against the Golden Rule, and find ourselves wanting, in our frequent and useless violence and hate.

Let us dare to change our sorrowing world, by doing unto others, as we would have them do unto us.

Let us each and severally, regardless of what is done unto us, do justice and love unto others, regardless.

Such a resolve of human courage would be the finest possible memorial to the dead.


On 9/11 also, in 1973, the Socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende Gossens, was murdered in a CIA-backed fascist military coup, and Chile condemned to years of torture.

As the Spanish anti-fascists would say, when calling the role of the dead:

“Salvador Allende Gossens.”

And I answer, “Presente.”


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