On Sunday, I wrote a sister piece to this post about simply being at the St. Louis 9/11 memorial, and the importance for me to not take photos on that day.
Today, I visited with my camera and some of the same thoughts went through my head as on Sunday. And yet, even so, I hope these photos let you experience this memorial a little yourself, to see both the scope and intimacy of this installation and the care with which it was both erected and is being visited. Even on this rainy Wednesday evening, there were visitors–a man in a business suit, a couple, a family. May God continue to bless and heal the families who lost loved ones on that day.
The memorial is scheduled to remain up until September 18th.
On Thursday night in Forest Park, walking a favorite path and looking at hundreds of yellow flowers to find the perfect shot, I walked into a pocket of cool air and for a few seconds forgot about photography. I felt the evening instead of simply seeing it; I saw the glory of the flowers dancing in the wind; I felt as if I were a part of it myself, like Adam walking in Eden. I had moved from seeing into simply being for a few short seconds, and then out again to resume my photo jaunt.
Today, more purposefully I chose to simply “be” as I took my camera, which had been on the seat beside me as I drove through a park full of cars moving with a noticeable dearth of noisy radios and the normal pressing to be first, and put it into the camera bag and into the trunk. In so doing, I knew I was missing a host of great photo opportunities, as the sun was dipping down behind the western edge of Art Hill and the golden hour of evening was commencing, when sunlight like liquid gold would be pouring down the hillside. I walked to the Grand Basin and up the hill and amongst the nearly 3000 flags, each labeled with name of someone who had perished 10 years ago on September 11th, in the memorial America’s Heartland Remembers.
It is an amazing thing to see 3000 flags, and others have done the important and worthy task of capturing the moment well for others to see. I personally chose to eschew my camera for the day, though, because I needed to try to feel the magnitude of that day in a way that I had not done before. Grief is many things, and one of them is selfish. Ten years ago, reeling from a difficult break-up, I watched and reacted and talked along with others during those days, and yet my heart was mainly attendant upon my own pain. And, so, today I was not going to again simply serve myself and angle for the good shots, a task that is oftentimes such a mix of creativity, service, need for affirmation, and pride for me.
And there upon each flag pole was a sticker with the name and age and hometown of a person who had died, and, yes, often a photograph. And even in those tiny centimeter by centimeter grainy square images, I was briefly reminded of the good work a camera may accomplish, often even in spite of the skill of the person who wields it.
I think it was the ages that struck me first, how so many were about my age, in their late 30s or 40s. And, then, it became clear that in some cases entire companies had been destroyed, entire workplaces with office politics and camaraderie and hard work, gone. Finally, it became abundantly clear, that the victims truly represented the vibrant diversity of America, even in their deaths as they did in their life, with people from every ethnic group, with financial workers and waitresses, firemen and soldiers. And that very American-ness was striking to me too. In over 20 minutes of walking, I found the names of only two individuals from other countries. I am sure all the victims were represented by the organizers, but what should have been rather obvious to me was driven home even in my admittedly brief, unscientific survey.
It should be noted that all the flags were American flags, and I do not know whether this was done for logistical purposes or aesthetic or patriotic reasons, though I suspect it was largely the latter two. And, yet, perhaps it was oddly fitting in as much as every baby which gasps its first breath on these shores, no matter from which corner of the earth their parents hail, has the right to take up our citizenship if they so desire. So, perhaps, in this grand symbol of remembering the day, the non-American dead of 9/11 may be content to fly the flag of the country into whose soil their blood, too, was spilled.
Finally, grief remains a personal thing. We may find catharsis in gatherings. We may feel the comfort of friends. And, yet, I will not presume to know the pain of each of the families and individuals who still, ten years on, are invisibly tethered to those flag posts. But today it was enough to stay the hungry, restlessness of my photographic eye, to touch some of those 3000 posts and to “be” together along with that multitude of mourners, along with a nation.