Archive for Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Beams are best memorial

January 1, 2003


Everything about to be built or torn down creates an argument in New York, and the intensity of the fight depends on what is to be raised or destroyed. That is a part of all the arguing and all the proposals for a memorial worthy of those nearly 2,800 people who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001.

When building is the issue, once you get through all the self-righteousness and all the rats below trying to open up the belly of the cash cow, there is something else at work -- that old demon called sentiment, the feelings of the common man and woman, the melodramas of the heart that come into play.

We cannot overstate what happened Sept. 11, but it is also impossible to clearly express what we do feel about it because the feeling is so broad, so varied and so deep.

I do not think any kind of building can do it, just as I think the Holocaust museum and any proposed memorial to American slavery end up not trivializing the subject but proving their own inadequacy.

How does a building express what happened in Europe under the Nazis? What building could step up to what took place in this nation between 1619 and 1865?

When we think of all the unhappiness, the shock, the loss, the anger, the heroism, the compassion, the bewilderment and so many other things that happened to those who saw the buildings go down with someone close inside them, or to those who were talking to them on their cell phones just a bit before things went blank, no amount of stone, however crafted, can measure up to that level of emotion.

I am not suggesting that we should not acknowledge the worst single day in the history of New York, the largest single act of terrorist murder in the history of the world. I am merely saying that we are far, far behind the curve when it comes to equaling the feelings resulting from that action. All that dust, all that hopeless waiting, all those funerals, all that mourning, all the collective emotion that crossed the lines of color, of religion, of class.

What seems the very best memorial to me is those two blue lights rising every evening into the sky until there is no New York. I say that because one can see them at great distances from the site, as one saw those two buildings. I say that because, being lights, they are not like buildings. Yet they rise into the night just as the buildings did.

Somewhere down below there should be no more than a wall or a closed-off area with metal plates containing the names of each of the murdered. Those names you can look at during the day, but at night, let those lights rise into the sky.

When those lights were there before, something special went up into infinity, something spiritual in meaning. Let those lights stand for all of us again.

They would perfectly symbolize our loss and our spirit, our blues and our steadfastness, our understanding of frailty, of hatred, of murder and of the need to help one another while continuing through our lives as Americans.

-- Stanley Crouch's e-mail address is

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