By Kellie Schorr
It was Tuesday morning, and I was at home getting ready for work when a friend dropped by to give me tickets she’d picked up for me.
I was wearing a pair of shorts and a beige polo shirt. My shoes were still sitting by the door waiting for me to jump in them and go. That Friday we were going with a group to see Shakespeare in the Park. She asked how Cathy was doing and told me she needed to get back to errands. Turning to leave she said the strangest thing.
“I just heard on the radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center.”
My shoes never left the doorway that day.
I didn’t go to Shakespeare in the Park.
I didn’t hear or see a plane fly over my house for three days.
Things were never really the same.
That’s how I learned of permanent impermanence.
In Buddhism we spend a lot of time talking about and embracing the concept of impermanence.
Part of being awake is understanding that nothing stays forever. We are taught in the second noble truth that we suffer because we cling to things that are not real or do not last. But we don’t spend a lot of time talking about how to deal with that space that remains once some object, some job, some idea, some being, some pet, some friend, some lover, some life is gone.
What do we do when our hearts are breaking? We let them break wide open and pour out all the sorrow we feel. What do we do with the empty space that’s left? We pause. We see it. We honor it.
This year, on the 20th anniversary of that day most of us can remember—where we were, what we wore, who told us, and how it felt—I invite you to pause and honor the blank spaces left by something we will never replace: the art that was lost in 9/11.
Instead of going to a play in the park I went to candlelight memorial. We remembered the dead, supported the living, honored the first responders, prayed for our enemies, and uplifted our nation. But—we never mentioned the art. The human cost was too great, too raw, to think about the way impermanence spreads like red ink on a white page, taking so much more than we realize.
Researching a painting for a book I’m writing I discovered a list of all the artworks that were lost when the towers collapsed. Sculptures on the grounds, collections housed in one of the 21 libraries in the towers, photographs stored in vaults, and millions of dollars in rare paintings owned by businesses and collectors in the buildings.
Among the destroyed were:
- The Kennedy Negatives—40,000 negatives of photos taken by the Kennedy’s private photographer.
- A cast of Rodin’s “The Thinker” in the Cantor Fitzgerald building.
- Art and literature from Helen Keller International. Only 2 books and a bust survived.
- 900,000 objects from the 19th century excavated from the historic Five Points neighborhood.
- Cloud Fortress by Masayuki Nagare
- Path Mural by Germaine Keller
- Commuter Landscape by Cynthia Mailman,
- Fan Dancing with the Birds by Hunt Slonem,
- The Entablature Series by Roy Lichtenstein,
- Needle Tower by Kenneth Snelson.
- Original works by Pablo Picasso
- Original works by David Hockney
- Original works by Le Corbusier
- 300 sculptures and drawings by Rodin
- A bust from The Burghers of Calais
And more… all lost. Barely reported, rarely mentioned, and hardly mourned.
It is easy, and probably normal, to say, “What’s a bunch of art compared to over 3,000 deaths?”
It’s a lot. Because art is the evidence of 3,000 lives or 30,000 or 3 million. Art is the thing that connects us to each other, to the world, to the past and to the future. Art is the expression of humanity at our most rare, honest, and beautiful. Art is the thing that reminds us why life matters and why death hurts so much.
Sometime this week, during the video replays, memories, or moments of silence—take a second and close your eyes—for the art you never saw and will never see again. Acknowledge the presence of permanent impermanence.
Then, as a being, as a family, as a community, as a world, let’s do better.
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