Waiting to be interviewed on the radio the other day, I found myself on hold listening to a public-service message exhorting listeners to go to 911day.org and tell their fellow citizens how they would be observing the tenth anniversary of the, ah, “tragic events.” There followed a sound bite of a lady explaining that she would be paying tribute by going and cleaning up an area of the beach.
Great! Who could object to that? Anything else? Well, another lady pledged that she “will continue to discuss anti-bullying tactics with my grandson.”
Marvelous. Because studies show that many middle-school bullies graduate to hijacking passenger jets and flying them into tall buildings?
Whoa, ease up on the old judgmentalism there, pal. In New Jersey, many of whose residents were among the dead, middle-schoolers will mark the anniversary with a special 9/11 curriculum that will “analyze diversity and prejudice in U.S. history.” And, if the “9/11 Peace Story Quilt” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art teaches us anything, it’s that the “tragic events” only underline the “importance of respect.” And “understanding.” As one of the quilt panels puts it:
You should never feel left out
You are a piece of a puzzle
And without you
The whole picture can’t be seen.
And if that message of “healing and unity” doesn’t sum up what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, what does? A painting of a plane flying into a building? A sculpture of bodies falling from a skyscraper? Oh, don’t be so drearily literal. “It is still too soon,” says Midori Yashimoto, director of the New Jersey City University Visual Arts Gallery, whose exhibition “Afterwards & Forward” is intended to “promote dialogue, deeper reflection, meditation, and contextualization.” So, instead of planes and skyscrapers, it has Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree,” on which you can hang little tags with your ideas for world peace.
What’s missing from these commemorations?
Oh, please. There are some pieces of the puzzle we have to leave out. As Mayor Bloomberg’s office has patiently explained, there’s “not enough room” at the official Ground Zero commemoration to accommodate any firemen. “Which is kind of weird,” wrote the Canadian blogger Kathy Shaidle, “since 343 of them managed to fit into the exact same space ten years ago.” On a day when all the fancypants money-no-object federal acronyms comprehensively failed — CIA, FBI, FAA, INS — the only bit of government that worked was the low-level unglamorous municipal government represented by the Fire Department of New York. When they arrived at the World Trade Center the air was thick with falling bodies — ordinary men and women trapped on high floors above where the planes had hit, who chose to spend their last seconds in one last gulp of open air rather than die in an inferno of jet fuel. Far “too soon” for any of that at New Jersey City University, but perhaps you could reenact the moment by filling out a peace tag for Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree” and then letting it flutter to the ground.
Upon arrival at the foot of the towers, two firemen were hit by falling bodies. “There is no other way to put it,” one of their colleagues explained. “They exploded.”
Any room for that on the Metropolitan Museum’s “Peace Quilt”? Sadly not. We’re all out of squares.
What else is missing from these commemorations?
What’s that — a quilting technique?
No, what’s missing from these commemorations is more Muslims. The other day I bumped into an old BBC pal who’s flying in for the anniversary to file a dispatch on why you see fewer women on the streets of New York wearing niqabs and burqas than you do on the streets of London. She thought this was a telling indictment of the post-9/11 climate of “Islamophobia.” I pointed out that, due to basic differences in immigration sources, there are far fewer Muslims in New York than in London. It would be like me flying into Stratford-on-Avon and reporting on the lack of Hispanics. But the suits had already approved the trip, so she was in no mood to call it off.