September 08, 2011

In Memory of 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches the memories of where we were and how we reacted as the catastrophe unfolded have resumed a prominent place in our daily psyche. Time may not exactly heal all wounds, but the pain became less acute as life returned to a facsimile of pre-9/11 normal. Now with the memorial looming, and New York City once again under a high terror alert, we are reminded of the overwhelming fear and sorrow that ruled our normal existence in the aftermath of that terrible day. But there were also some rays of sunshine in those dark hours. Tales of unbelievable bravery, kindness and generosity were reported as Americans and our allies around the world came together to recover and rebuild.

In a beautiful and moving tribute to the heroes of 9/11, the photographer Joe McNally spent three weeks shooting life size photographs of firemen, police officers, emergency service workers and some ordinary folks in extraordinary circumstances. The result is the "Faces of Ground Zero, Portraits of the Heroes of September 11, 2001" a book and traveling exhibition that is now on view at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. Spread over the ground and second floor of this shopping and residential complex are dozens of huge Polaroid photographs, each with a caption and many with a current digital image alongside. The exhibition is mesmerizing.

Staring into the eyes of John Baldassare, a Lieutenant with Ladder 9 Engine 33 FDNY a firehouse that lost most of its men; Peter Regan, a United States Marine who searched the rubble looking for his Dad, a firefighter; Michael Lomonaco, Executive Chef at Windows on the World who happened to run an errand that morning and avoided the fate of most of his co-workers; Lisa Beamer, widow of Flight 93 hero Todd "Let's Roll" Beamer, and America's Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was to relive the episode all over again.

For me the most touching photograph was of Jan Demczur (see left), a window washer who became trapped in an elevator with five other people on the 50th floor. Mr. Demczur used he squeegee to open the door and was faced with a wall of plasterboard. For 95 minutes, Mr. Demczur and his fellow prisoners chipped away with the metal blade of his wiper to make a one foot by 18 inch opening through which, one by one, they were able to escape. Mr. Demczur's comment, "I can't talk about it" was all that needed to be said.

I, like many other people, shed a lot of tears in the days and months that followed September 11, 2001. For the first time in a long time this exhibition brought tears to my eyes again. Not macabre but respectful and honest, it is a tribute to the human spirit and the power of freedom.

We Will Never Forget

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