Time and Place

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I had the same choice every other Western person did. Pay heed or ignore. I decided to listen to what was being said about 9/11 since it seems to me this moment is historically significant, regardless of one’s political or religious leanings, or thoughts on the daily suffering of those who live in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A large thing happened in New York, people died, then more people died. Also, two buildings collapsed, slumping to the ground the way a human does when shot.

Rather than rehash all I read and heard, suffice to say much of it was moving. I heard almost no drum-beating this year, no arguments saying how well war had been working, and nothing hateful. I heard sad stories, gentle reflections, and people tired of grieving. I heard a long interview with a fireman who’d been trapped on the fourth floor of the second tower when it fell. He was a humble, understated man, and a good storyteller in a way that seems to come so naturally to Americans. He stood in a stairwell with his team and the building shuddered and broke around them, he clawed his way out of the wreckage, he breathed air thick with pulverised construction materials and human remains. He has lung cancer.

I disagree with a woman who said to me yesterday, ‘I’m opting out until the twelfth. There’s nothing new to be said.’ Following her logic, I guess there’s nothing new to be said about the Holocaust, which is  bad news for Hollywood. But I think there’s a different something to be said when an event becomes older and we try to understand it with some distance. I wouldn’t suggest it’s healthy to dwell on the past every day – and I think the people who lived through 9/11 actively try not to do this – but there is much to be learned from the past.

During the day I read about another set of twins, a pair of homes in a field in upstate New York. They bear no physical resemblance to the twin towers other than the fact that they have been designed to ‘speak’ to one another and both remind me of the minimalist stick cum rod thrown in 2001: A Space Odyssey. These twins are beautiful in their strength, clean lines and unapologetic blackness. They aren’t trying to fit in with the surrounding woody forest any more than the towers tried to with the pygmy buildings around them, but in both cases the boldness of the buildings simply works.

Looking at the twins in the forest is calming. They are a work of intelligence, skill, and, I’m guessing, many hours spent staring out a window or at a blank piece of paper. They are an act of human thoughtfulness. For me, looking at these peaceful images while listening to the fireman explain why he and his men chose to rescue a woman – one woman – rather than get themselves out of the building when they could, made the world seem astoundingly complicated. Humans can do everything good and bad. We can’t control one another, we barely understand one another, and yet we absolutely depend on getting on with one another to survive. We build things, slap them down, give birth, kill, mend and break. We dirty oceans, raze forests, cure illness, talk to one another through machines we’ve made. We corral and eat other animals. We are the power brokers of the planet.

So when one bunch of us does something stupid, like destroy buildings full of people as a show of might, rage and outrage, the rest of us should, at the very least, do our best to listen and learn. And that can take years.

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