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Commentary

Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial

/ 12:07 AM October 30, 2014

NEW YORK—We stood in front of Trinity Church, looking across Broadway and down Wall Street to the East River. This fabled street is not even a kilometer long and is just two lanes wide. The skyscrapers on each side of the street keep it, perhaps fittingly, covered in shadows.

It was Saturday Oct. 18; it had been a very troubling week for Wall Street and world finance. The stock market had fallen sharply and there was speculation about a new recession. Economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, told the public there was little chance of a new recession because of the regulatory improvements made after the last recession. Let’s hope so, but what guarantee is there of regulating some of the greediest men and women in the world, working night and day for the basest motivation—money—and convinced perhaps they cannot be punished even if they violate the regulations?

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We crossed Broadway and headed down Wall Street toward the stock market building and the old Treasury building where George Washington took his oath of office as first president of the United States. We thought the area would be empty because it was a Saturday, and that the people who were there would be downcast because of the bad economic news of the past week. Instead, the street around the stock market building was packed with tourists from many different countries and hundreds of children having the time of their lives in this strange new playground. If these children of the world were there on working days, they might influence the brokers to be more careful in their risk-taking.

Later we walked the few blocks between Wall Street and the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. When we passed the firehouse near the monument, a bell went off and the engines came out. Hundreds of people stood still to watch, remembering the 300 fire fighters who died in the 9/11 disaster. Six fire fighters from that station died.

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There was a huge crowd around the entrance so we wondered if we would ever get close enough to see the remembrance pools. But the massed crowd was only at the entrance, and soon we were in a park-like space with young trees and flowers and people sitting around taking it easy.

The two pools and the memorial tower are the center focus of the shrine. The pools are huge chests of black marble sunk into the ground on the site where the towers once stood. They are 80-100 yards on their sides. Water flows evenly down the sides of the chests 30 feet to the floors. It then flows toward black holes and drops into darkness. There is the rumble of the water as a background. The effect of the water falling all around and then falling again into darkness suggests mystery, continuity and eternity.

I think the people watching were helped to reflect on whatever religious beliefs they had. The people who lined the sides of the pool were as reverent as they might be in church. It was spellbinding artistry: to use elemental stone and water to introduce the spiritual.

The great task of New York City is to hold in thoughtful balance Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial.   We must also remember that we are, as the Psalms say, grass of the field that blooms for a day, and then is gathered up. We are short-lived, but part of a larger, loving, immortal plan designed for our greater good.

New York, of course, is not the only place that must balance greed and wisdom.

A Christian might see the graceful 100-story memorial tower that rises alongside the pools as an image of Jesus rising and drawing all men and women with him. It rises like a great fish surging from the sea. It is a wonder that a city of great variety in lifestyles, customs and religious beliefs could put together this memorial which seems to please everyone.

Is it time for us to think of a fitting memorial for the thousands of people who died in “Yolanda”? If we start thinking about its final shape now and take our time and let everyone have their chance to speak, we may be ready to build in four or five years. New York took almost 10 years to decide on the final shape of its monument.

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At the New York monument there isn’t a word about terrorism, destruction, or violence. It is a healing creation. What monument would suit the Yolanda survivors and their memories?

It would be significant if we could put the monument in one of several communities where the poor survivors have good houses, land tenure security, and a little land for growing vegetables. And the communities are in the city, so the people can enjoy its schools, churches and malls.

It could take more than four or five years at the rate we are now going to rehouse all the survivors. There are signs, however, that we have all learned from our past mistakes.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (urbanpoorassociates@gmail.com).

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TAGS: 9/11 Memorial, New York, terrorism, Wall Street
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