Tragedy, Repair and the Road to Recovery

Damage is inevitable. Society is constantly wrought with stress, hurt, and pain. Subsequently, society is in a perpetual state of repair. Often, citizens are unaware of this ongoing state of repair, but sometimes society must make a conscious effort to repair itself. In Elizabeth Spelman’s novel, Repair, she introduces us to various types of repair. She uses cars, relationships, and the human body as metaphors for repair. Unfortunately, society is much larger and more complicated than a car, or a relationship. Can repair always be successful on a large scale? For example, how could the United States be expected to repair itself following the tragic September 11th attacks? While it is in a better state than 15 years ago, the United States has not fully repaired itself from the attacks.

September 11th came as a shock to Americans. Our nation trembled with disbelief as we saw the news across our televisions, trembled with fear as the Twin Towers collapsed, and trembled with grief hearing the amount of innocent lives taken. However, our nation was united, ready to repair and reclaim our faltering freedom.

The twin towers can neither be repaired nor restored, but as the president of the Historic Districts Council of New York City sees it, whatever is done at the site ‘must reweave the damaged threads of fabric that terrorism sought to tear apart, and create a sense of place that fills the void and honors the losses of September 11’ (3).

Can a nation ever truly be repaired, or must repair come in a different form? In the first chapter, Spelman introduces the readers to the synonyms for repair; she then explains that the synonyms do not all share the same meaning. After 9/11, the Twin Towers were not physically repaired, but the Freedom Tower was reconstructed at the site of the attack to honor all the lives lost. Firefighters, police officers and people who rushed to the scene to help went through both physical and mental rehabilitation after the attacks. George W. Bush attempted to restore order within this trembling nation. Certainly steps toward repair were taken, but the United States was not completely resolved of its suffering with these efforts.

Society is in a constant state of repair. We live in “a culture sustained by the faith that there are technical fixes for all human ills. (7)” Death is an ill that is unable to be corrected with a technical fix. Everyone copes with death differently, therefore it is impossible to immediately rectify an attack like this. We cannot think of repair as only using tools and we cannot think of repair as something that should be done quickly. “We humans don’t just live in a world of breakables, we are breakables, our bodies and souls by their very nature are subject to fracture and fissure. (50)” Fifteen years may seem like an adequate amount of time to repair a nation or oneself, but one cannot put a time frame on grief. Instead, we must allow our country to mourn its lost loved ones and honor the memory of our fallen.

The United States is still in mourning over the September 11th attacks. On September 11, 2001, I was only three years old. I was in daycare, my older brother was at elementary school, my mom was in a meeting at the school and my dad was at work in the city. Thankfully my dad made it home alive that day, but many of my peers were not as lucky. Although my young age has restricted me from remembering the exact details of that tragic day, it had a profound and everlasting effect on the town of Floral Park. Floral Park is a mere 17 miles from where the towers once stood. Some of the most respected firefighters and policemen of Floral Park rushed to the city to join in the rescue efforts. The towers were once visible from the windows of Floral Park Memorial High School, but on 9/11 only two streams of smoke appeared. Uncertainty filled the halls, as teachers and students heard the minimal details unfold. Our teachers told us how they stood and watched the towers collapse from their windows, others stood gathered around the one and only small TV, in the teachers’ lounge. The year 2001 was a very different time; there was a lack of immediate information, which made the situation even more eerie. Teachers and students couldn’t pull out their phones and receive news updates. The teachers were told to keep a discussion to a minimum, to not necessarily inform the students on all the details but to inform them that a plane had crashed into the building. If the students were immediately informed, an environment of fear would have been created, since many students in the school knew someone who worked at or around the World Trade Center.

The above images are personal photos I took in Floral Park over Thanksgiving break. The images include a bell dedicated to our lost firemen, the town’s main fire house, a steal beam which was once part of the Twin Towers with names on the bottom of those who have passed, and our town hall. I have always been aware that our town had a part of the towers. However, I never stopped to truly appreciate and observe this tribute. I walked past here a countless amount of times and finally had the opportunity to stop and acknowledge, which I believe in our everyday hectic lives is so hard to do. I was taken aback by what a powerful connection I felt to those lost and to ground zero itself. I feel honored to have a piece of something so important to this country located in my town.

Now, on a clear day, the Freedom Tower can be seen from Floral Park Memorial High School. On the anniversaries of 9/11 students from Floral Park Memorial gather on the bleachers to look at the tower and watch the lights cast up in the sky. Glistening white lights illuminate the sky and remind us all of our impenetrable strength. The sights at ground zero can still bring chills to any American standing there. It has become a sight of remembrance. Our new glistening Freedom Tower is built upon the rubbles of 9/11, but more importantly it is built on the grounds that once felt heartache, anger and devastation. It stands in the sky as the tallest building in the Western hemisphere.

Spelman discusses the repair of ruins, and how they are considered “tourist attractions”. Machu Picchu in Peru and the Acropolis in Greece, are just two of the most popular natural ruins, which bring in millions of tourists each year. These places have been left untouched by H. reparans, to become pure marvels within the natural world. The World Trade Center is technically a ruin, but a very different kind of ruin. Tourists do not come to ground zero for a connection to history, but rather a connection to community and to others suffering from similar emotions. The connection to community makes recovery and repair an easier process. The new structures at ground zero are not ones you will take cliché photos jumping in front of, or places to send a postcard from, and you will definitely not go to ground zero for pure enjoyment. Visiting ground zero is not just something to check off your bucket list. Ground zero is most close in comparison to a place of worship, where you are with other people, but you are serious, you are reflecting and you are creating connections with those you have lost. It is important that people recognize the distinctive differences between these types of ruins. We learn from Spelman many important lessons throughout the book and one we struggle most with is that,

Not everything that breaks can be fixed. The skills we repairing animals have to learn include self-reflexive ones of coming to grips with the limits of those skills and figuring out what to do in the face of the irreparable (102).

The remains of the World Trade Center are preserved, rather than repaired to stand how it once did. The Freedom Tower, 9/11 Museum and Memorial were constructed and opened to the public for viewing. Through the use of preservation, we have kept both physical and emotional connections to the World Trade Center prior to the attacks. The concept of preservation is more vital in a circumstance where emotional damage is present. Preserving the old allows people to still feel a connection and reminder to the past.

A very powerful photo of mayor and former police officer, Sam Pulia, mourning the loss of his cousin. Many emotional photos like this are taken at the memorial, when people see their loved ones names.

The first of the very important new features on ground zero is the Memorial, it features two large waterfalls and reflecting pools, each set where the original Twin Towers once stood and over 2,000 names of those we lost are engraved on a wall. According to the article Design Overview, “its design conveys a spirit of hope and renewal, and creates a contemplative space separate from the usual sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis.”

The museum pays tribute to the innocent lives lost, and over 10,000 artifacts from that tragic day are displayed within the museum. I believe the museum was the best possible way to acknowledge this atrocity. Instead of attempting repair, the people who worked to build this museum created an environment which connects us to the past, and will not allow us to forget. The artifacts all contribute to the museums emotional power. Things people would consider “garbage” are displayed in this museum. Small eyeglass frames, a burnt firefighters hat, clothes covered in ash and soot from Chelsea Jeans, mangled police cars, fire trucks ambulance, and the large steel columns which once held up these towers are just a few of the artifacts that can leave anyone in the museum speechless. I have visited the museum and memorial multiple times. Every time I am struck with such a strong sense of emotion. Upon entrance you take a large escalator which brings you under the sight of the attacks. It is very open, and the lighting is relatively dark, looking around the room it is most similar in comparison to a catacomb.

A 5 minute tour throughout the 9/11 museum with Whoopi Goldberg. This is one of the shorter videos and offers a quick visual of how the museum is layed out. Obviously videos and pictures are not as effective as truly going there. If you are ever in New York City, and have the opportunity I strongly suggest you visit. One thing that Whoopi said that resonates with me is, “ You’ve got to be prepared when you go down there, it’s tough but you got to go, you have to see it”. The museum is packed with emotion which makes it hard visit, but it is important to experience this.

The first thing you see is the large picture of the old Twin Towers and then the redesigned Freedom Tower. The juxtaposition of these two photographs is quite important because it shows our ability to rebuild as a nation. As you continue to move through the museum, your eyes will explore thousands of relics from the attacks. I think it is crucial for all people to go and pay tribute to these victims and connect with families. The museum offers both a learning and emotional experience for all.

Spelman’s book was published in 2002, approximately one year after the attacks. At the time, it was difficult to imagine the United States ever recovering from the September 11th attacks. While, the discussion on how to repair the nation following the attacks is minimal, the lessons Spelman provides give great insight into how society can repair itself following devastating crises. Spelman teaches to preserve ruins, thus the United States honored the remains and rubble by building the Freedom Tower and museum. It promises us that this atrocity will not be forgotten and the memory of our fellow Americans will live on. Full repair has not been reached after 15 years — significant grief still envelops the September 11th attacks — and full repair may never be reached. But, we must acknowledge the reparative progress that has been made. The United States has made every effort to preserve the memory of the attacks and its fallen. Although some cracks are still prevalent, and the wounds have yet to fully heal, our nation has come so far.


Works Cited

“Design Overview.” National September 11 Memorial & Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.

Elliot, Marta. 25 Powerful Images from 9/11, the Attacks on the World Trade Center. Digital image. Untapped Cities. N.p., 11 Sept. 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

Memorial Marks 13th Anniversary. Digital image. Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

Newspaper Front Pages from September 12, 2001. Digital image. ABC. N.p., 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

Siemaszko, Corky. Observation Deck at World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower to Open May 29. Digital image. Legends. N.p., 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

Spelman, Elizabeth V. Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. Boston: Beacon, 2002. Print.