Absent The White Roses: on monuments in deeper history

Somewhere within the eastern side of the heart of Central Park there is an obelisk, stone rising upto sky, three and a half thousand years of age and littered with restored hieroglyphs, standing monument to an antique history; five miles to the southwest lie two concrete pools, water falling into ground, five years of age and littered with pristine Latin letters, standing monument to a history reaching back only fifteen years.

Two symbols of two worlds sharing the island of Manhattan: one speaking for its society’s height; the other capturing an instant of passing through the end of one and the beginning of another – superficially the same, fundamentally different. Whilst near-aimlessly wandering the near-indescribable birthplace borough of the City of New York for two and a half days, I stumbled upon both of them. Of course, I happened to be far more aware of the presence of one than the other.

For the conspiracists: on September the 11th, 2001, I was 9 days from turning 11. The memory has me seated on a wooden chair at the dining table, drawing something or writing schoolwork in a scarcely legible hand that even now remains the same, one parent entering the room to say to the other that “they’ve destroyed the towers”; has me seated on a plastic chair at a classroom table, bearing solemn explanations, riding out minutes of silence in school. Entrenched and clear and absolute as the memory is, the events as they happened bore no real meaning to me, no emotional connect. No reason to stick.

And yet, fourteen years and five months since the television and the grown-ups exuded such heavy concern over the towers, at any moment within the hours I spent within the 9/11 museum it would have been reasonable for anyone passing me to assume I had lost something or someone there and not been back since. And not merely because of the scarred airplane seat-belts, voice-message transcripts, frayed wallets, rescue helmets, contorted metal frames. Near-fifteen years of gradual, intellectual comprehension of an event condensed in an instant by and with and into one moment of rounding a corner into view of black pools, rushing water, engraved names, and placed, white roses – a severe and sudden emotional comprehension.

But then finding the other, the ancient monument of military victory and red granite in a modern park, and being wholly unaffected in that emotional sense, and only mildy, ephemerally affected in an intellectual, historical sense, made me wonder – if so important and commemorative an object as the obelisk can find itself abruptly ancient and relocated, unimaginably far, to those that nurtured it, beyond its original site, and find itself an object of only curiosity, detached from the lives being led around it, and find itself being only found and not looked for, and find itself among strange plants on alien soil surrounded by modern sites that are commonplace and yet dwarf it into almost complete insignificance, complete were it not for the signpost explanation of its history, then what might ultimately happen, in deeper time, to so significant a site that is the two memorial pools, markers of a new century and psychology? The unclosed wound; the proud, healed scar.

Nothing beside remains.

Something beside remains.

In what we will call (but they may not) the year 5511 C.E., Ground Zero will be roughly the age that Cleopatra’s Needle is today – who is going to stumble upon it, and where, amongst what rundown or upkept environment, not knowing what it is, for what and for whom it existed, rediscovering an age-old monument as an arcane piece of no relevance? Someone born off-planet, as removed from Ground Zero in space and time, and thought and soul, as I from the monument to Egypt, pausing poised poolside, wearing perked curiosity and incomplete interest, facing down a physical or digital recreation, and scanning languidly the engraved series, translated-beneath, of Ancient Earthly letters reading –

First Responders

New York City Fire Department

Rescue 4

Flight 175

 – absent the white roses.

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