Just across the border from where my family and I now live in New Jersey, the community of Newtown, PA, has put together a Garden of Reflection in memory of 9-11. In need of some reflection, I visited it today. While this was not the town where the plane crashed in the Pennsylvania farmfield, many people from the area were directly affected and the names of the 17 from Bucks’ County form the central ring of this stark, zenlike memorial. In fact, one notable aspect of the Garden is its situation in the middle of rolling Dutch-Amish countryside just as if it had been the farmfield crash-site. Then, more subtly, as a visitor strolls the grounds, a second architectural/artistic element reveals itself: a series of earthen berms radiating from the memorial like shockwaves. It sends a definite message of one-pointedness and focus, perhaps an attempt to recapture some of the feeling of unity and (rage-inspired?) patriotism that overflowed, Pearl Harbor-style, the first few days and weeks and months after this tragedy.
While I found the clean lines and stainless-steal-and-glass construction somewhat contradictory (a stretch to say NQR) when compared to the chaos and dust and flame and utter destruction of the event itself, the place offers a certain quiet that is useful, if not a perfect metaphor. Beyond this cleanliness and precision, or in addition to it, what I found more important and far more movingly human were the trinkets and tokens placed around the names of the victims. They are the real cause for reflection: lives chipped and chiseled and changed in ways unpredictably strange and sad, people left to live on without loved ones.
Due to these spontaneous, individualized additions and accretions, the memorial, despite its depersonalized design, personalizes the attack of 9-11 and sets the uncaring brutality of steel, concrete, and modern machines (like jetliners) in forceful opposition to the universal issues of human suffering that touch everyone regardless of nation, creed or religion.