The tall towers have been replaced by deep voids.
Framed by the rush of falling water, the shallow pools are meant to reflect their surroundings.
At the edge of each void the names of the dead are inscribed in bronze.
In his original proposal the memorial’s architect, Michael Arad, wrote, ”A cascade of water that describes the perimeter of each square feeds the pools with a continuous stream. They are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence.”
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man. (Heraclitus)
Surrounding the void is a grove of swamp white oaks. Fast growing yet long lived, the trees could flourish for the next three centuries. The species is native to New York and well-adapted to extremes of climate and urban life.
More than four hundred American oaks will be joined by an exotic other. A single Callery Pear tree survived the collapse of the towers. Originally one of several ornamentals lining the plaza it was found, according to New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, “soldered, twisted and gnarled and blackened.”
The Callery Pear is native to East Asia and is considered by many an invasive species, tending to crowd out less prolific flora. They also have “a nasty habit of crashing just as they reach their glory at 15 to 20 years old… Often large limbs are lost in wind and ice storms, but can also fail on a calm day.”
Last December when the Callery Pear was replanted, Mayor Bloomberg commented, “The presence of the Survivor Tree on the Memorial Plaza will symbolize New York City’s and this nation’s resilience after the attacks.” Perhaps it also symbolizes our openness to diversity even in adversity.
The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony. (Heraclitus)
Tonight at 8:30 a choir with orchestra will perform at Trinity Church, a quick walk from the memorial site. The two hour performance will include elements of the Faure Requiem, Amazing Grace, and three movements of the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem. This is the culmination of a day-long series of concerts alternating between the Trinity sanctuary and St. Paul’s Chapel.
If you have visited Ground Zero you have almost certainly passed St. Paul’s. This is a colonial-era church just across the street from where the towers once stood. Amazingly the church survived without even a broken window. A giant sycamore gave its life shielding the chapel from falling debris.
In the hours, days, weeks and months after the attack St. Paul’s served the needs of those involved in response and recovery. Lyndon Harris, who was there, wrote, “More than 5,000 people used their special gifts to transform St. Paul’s into a place of rest and refuge. Musicians, clergy, podiatrists, lawyers, soccer moms, and folks of every imaginable type poured coffee, swept floors, took out the trash, and served more than half a million meals. Emerging at St. Paul’s was a dynamic I think of as a reciprocity of gratitude, a circle of thanksgiving—in which volunteers and rescue and recovery workers tried to outdo each other with acts of kindness and love, leaving both giver and receiver changed.”
The final performance tonight is Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace) from the Bach B Minor Mass, considered by many the consummation of Western choral music.
Discussing the purpose of the memorial, the architect explained the design’s intention as, “stoic, defiant and compassionate.” These three characteristics do not always travel comfortably together. But you can hear each in Bach’s closing chorus.
I am told that in the months after the attack the mood at St. Paul’s was persistently stoic, defiant, and compassionate. In that particular place where the very worst was so painfully present, firefighters and cops, physicians and iron-workers, believers and unbelievers, the wide range of humanity responded as one.
Again Lyndon Harris writes, “We just got up, day after day, dressed accordingly, and went about the monumental task of trying to make sense out of absurdity, bring order out of chaos, and reclaim humanity from the violence that sought to make human life less human. This was also a season of remembrance as we mourned the loss of loved ones. It was a season of improvisation as we tried, often at our wit’s end, to respond to the needs emerging from these never before experienced acts of terrorism.”
We can still be at our wit’s end. Defiance often seems our default when either stoic restraint or unrestrained compassion would do better. But it is not one or the other. We are to embrace opposites. Bach was master of counterpoint, the musical expression of eternal paradox: love abides with hate, good abides with evil, life abides with death. This is our perpetual reality.
All things are in flux; the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle. This principle — logos, the hidden harmony behind all change — binds opposites in a unified tension, which is like that of a lyre, where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string. (Heraclitus)