This morning I went to Battery Park to sign my name on a beam which will be used in the construction of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero. This beam-signing opportunity runs through 6pm today, and again tomorrow, September 11, from 10am to 6pm.
I went alone. The collective spirit of those assembled felt strange to me. People waiting to enter were talking with each other, laughing, catching up. For many of these people, it seemed to be a reunion, or even more causal, like a ride in the elevator.
Those of us who arrived before 10am had to wait nearly two hours to sign. Everything had to wait for the arrival – and departure – of Mayor Bloomberg. He played the role of the bad dinner guest, who arrives late, so everyone else’s food is cold, and lingers far too long, straining the patience of even the most gracious hosts.
While I was waiting, reporters trolled through the crowd. Shortly after I arrived, I was interviewed briefly by 1010WINS, a local radio station. They asked my name, asked me to spell it out, asked me where I worked. Then they asked me, something like: When you think about that day, what comes to mind? I looked up at the sky, as blue this morning as it was that morning. My eyes filled with tears. I choked out a response: It’s an atrocity. For anyone to do that in the name of their god is an atrocity.
Ground Zero, September 27, 2001
They also asked what I was going to write. I told them I was going to write the name of the Memorial Cobblestone Campaign I started: Gardeners for Recovery.
Eventually we got to actually wait in line, instead of muddling about in the cattle pen on the sidewalk. Some of this drudgery was relieved by the company of a bulldog. His name was 6, the number. With his underbite and watery eyes, he reminded me of a deep-sea anglerfish. He was very sweet and affectionate. His person said he hated to get his picture taken, but we seemed to have developed a rapport. Perhaps it was the butt-rubbing and ear-fluffing that won him over.
Each of us was given a commemorative marker with which to sign. A magnetic template on the beam constrained the area in which we could write. I had hoped to write the statement of the cobblestone campaign I started:
Gardeners for Recovery recognize the importance of gardens and gardening for individual, community, and global healing and recovery.
There wasn’t enough room for that, so I simply signed it with my name and that of the campaign.
At that point, I had waited so long, I didn’t know what to do next. I was actually shaking a little, so I sat down on a park bench just outside the signing area. I half-collapsed when I sat down. Each beam weighs 4 tons. I was feeling the symbolic weight of what we were all doing there this morning, why each of us felt, in our own way, we wanted to do this.
When I left the beam-signing area, I walked over to The Sphere. Battered and bent, it was relocated from the plaza of the World Trade Center to Battery Park. It will eventually be returned to the site when construction is completed.
The Sphere, Battery Park, September 2003
The radio guys had asked me if signing the beam would make a difference. I don’t really believe it does, certainly not one signature. I told them, “it’s a gesture,” an expression of the hope for recovery. Maybe the collective weight of all those signatures can have an impact, can make a difference on someone. Maybe we can reflect on our own collective responsibilities as a people, as a nation.
The Sphere, yesterday
Flags, flags, flags … flags waving everywhere. I understand the impulse, yet I don’t feel it as a defiant gesture. It feels like a concession to me. That we have no greater symbol than our nation’s flag makes me sad. What evil has been committed in the name of that flag? How is it any different from the evil committed against us seven years ago?
Anti-war graffiti on the base of a statue of George Washington in Union Square Park, September 24, 2001
It has taken far too long to reclaim that void. It will be several more years, and billions of dollars, before we can really reclaim it. I am comforted that the vision for the memorial is essentially a garden: a plaza filled with oak trees, waterfalls plunging into the earth where the towers stood, stairs to lead us down into the earth, where we can be surrounded by emptiness and the white noise of the leaves of the trees and the rushing waters, where we can be alone together, and reflect.
Gardeners for Recovery
National September 11 Memorial