icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


Brave New World

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures/buildings are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people/politicians in't.

A departure from William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I
I delivered an archive of printed emails and memorabilia to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum yesterday. Historians and archivists are challenged these days; so much is lost in cyberspace. I had printed out emails and poems I’d written, so I offered them as documentation. There is also an oral history archive if anyone reading this blog would like to contribute their experiences: www.911memorial.org.

I was nervous about taking the #2 train to the Fulton Street station and had flashbacks as soon as I was on the train. Most New Yorkers I know have traumatic memories of that day and mild PTSD that comes and goes. We all tell stories around the time of the anniversary and the anniversary is coming up. And I have had firemen and firemen’s wives in my workshops, survivors, therapists and other relief workers. When I wrote to my student, Vasu Varadhan, to tell her I was going down to the site, she wrote back to say she was on the way there with her husband to see/touch her son Gopal’s name on the memorial wall. It was eerie, she said, that we should be exchanging emails just on this day. Vasu is working on a memoir about her childhood, adolescence, and arranged marriage that will be dedicated to Gopal, one of many who were slaughtered that day, the preface to the wars we have been fighting ever since. What blind folly is this, Shakespeare might have said. Or did he? Did we not know this was coming? Could we not understand the consequences of our actions before the attack and beyond?

I hadn’t been down to the site in more than five years and when I surfaced I had to hold back tears. Yet people are working here every day, debarking trains, strolling the streets, going to work, leaving work, I told myself. I was dazed and didn’t know where I was, could not orient south or north, east or west. Instead of the Towers and then the amputated site, there were glass fronted scrapers of various sizes all around, new and sparkling in the summer sun. “We are among our monuments here, such close quarters, and what gets wrecked falls at our feet,” I wrote in an email a week after the attack. And now new monuments are rising and closing in on Lower Manhattan where the Dutch first settled in the 17th century. The cobbled streets are sometimes still visible.

I could not find Liberty Street or One Liberty Plaza so I asked a policeman and he did not know where it was either. But a woman overheard my question and walked me to the building, asked where I was going, what I was doing. When I told her, a story spilled. Yes, she was there on the day. She watched the bodies fall, was covered with ash, and escaped. “How is it coming down here every day all these years?”

“There’s a new Century 21. My friends and I have lunchtime gatherings.”

“Do you go down to the Memorial?

“We work in the Memorial. We are the Memorial." she said.

I had a meeting with an Assistant Curator of Collections, Alexandra Drakakis, who has been working on the 9/11 collection for five years. She asked if I knew anyone with oral memories who could contribute to the oral history archive and/or any writers who have kept emails and journals. Writers, photographers and artists are important witnesses to events; we document these events in our journals and our work.

The Memorial and Museum are a work-in-progress. Sadly, a financial dispute between the 9/11 Foundation and the Port Authority continues. The families are very upset, as they should be. They lost their loved ones in a Great Atrocity, are gathering memorabilia for the Museum, and deserve some closure.


Be the first to comment