Above

This past Friday, I went to Boston’s Logan International Airport to pick J up from a two-week business trip. I got to the airport early, not knowing how bad the Memorial Day weekend traffic would be, so I had time to seek out the airport’s 9/11 Memorial, which commemorates the passengers and crew lost on two flights out of Boston that were hijacked and flown into New York’s World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.

Departed

I like airports, despite (or maybe because of) their nervous bustle. Even if you yourself aren’t going anywhere, at an airport you can pretend you are while walking for what seems like miles within a labyrinthine warren of networked corridors. To get to the 9/11 Memorial on Friday, I walked the long corridor connecting Terminal E in one direction and Terminal A in the other, encountering along the way a disoriented fellow who was trying to find the arrivals terminal without knowing which airline his “arrival” was flying on. Pointing this man toward the closest of the airport’s terminals, I hoped someone would be able to help him once he got there.

Gingko grove

Once I found it, the 9/11 memorial at Logan Airport was underwhelming: a translucent glass cube in a grove of young gingko trees. To me, the trees were the most attractive aspect of the memorial–in autumn, they must be spectacular as they gleam golden. But the cube itself felt sterile and disconnected, nestled into a wedge of green between the central parking garage, the airport Hilton, and a noisy highway interchange.

American Airlines Flight 11

I’m guessing the cube is more impressive at night, when its panels are lit by ground-level lights. But by day, it looks like an empty bus-stop shelter or a giant glass Rubik’s cube. Whereas the 9/11 Memorial in New York City is fluid with paired waterfalls marking the spot where the Twin Towers stood, Logan Airport’s memorial to the two flights that were hijacked out of Boston is literally unmoving: the one thing in the landscape that never changes.

United Airlines Flight 175

While the parking garage next to the memorial is sided with countless metal flaps that swing in the breeze, creating a mesmerizing ripple effect like wind tousling a dog’s fur or a bird’s feathers, the memorial cube has solid glass sides and an open-air “roof” with glass tiles affixed on two slanted planes of parallel wires. The effect is of glass fragments caught in mid-air, and perhaps that is the intended impression. But while those mid-air shards evoke the shattered glass of the wrecked Twin Towers and the subsequent confetti-like fall of paper, glass, and other debris, this image of shattered-glass-frozen-in-abeyance seems an odd choice to commemorate two planes that were turned by hijackers into missiles, the exact opposite of an unmoving cube.

Departed

Inside the cube are panels listing the passengers and crew lost on the two flights out of Boston that crashed into the Twin Towers: American Airlines Flight 11, which departed Boston at 7:59 a.m, and United Airlines Flight 175, which departed at 8:14 a.m. The cube commemorates the moment each of these planes departed, not the moments they were hijacked and crashed into the North and South Towers. If you wanted to freeze in time any moment from that day, it would be the moment of takeoff, not the moment of impact. At the moment of takeoff, all but five passengers on each place were blithely unaware of their fates, laboring under the sunny illusion that their lives like their travels were going somewhere.

Memorial cube

Airports are places of promise and opportunity–Bon Voyage!–except when they aren’t. A sterile glass cube tucked into a forgotten corner between a hotel and a parking garage at Boston’s Logan Airport reminds us that sometimes the dearly departed are not destined to arrive.

Alongside

Late last December, in the quiet lull between Christmas and New Year’s, J and I made a pilgrimage to New York City, where we disembarked at Penn Station, walked to Ground Zero, and visited the 9/11 Memorial before having lunch, walking back to our train, and returning to Boston. It was a quintessential day trip: a journey there and back lasting little more than twelve hours.

Diagonal

Like any pilgrimage, it was a trip we’d planned months beforehand, as soon as we heard the 9/11 Memorial would be open to visitors on a reservation-only basis. The site was still an active construction zone, with workers raising nearby Freedom Tower; even with guest passes, we had to wend our way through a labyrinthine security line where no one complained about walking through metal detectors or passing their bags through X-ray machines.

Tower with waterfall

On a pilgrimage, you expect your travel to involve more than a bit of travail; on a pilgrimage, you’re willing to cultivate the virtues of patience and long-suffering, recognizing that life is a journey with many unforeseen twists and turns.

and her unborn child

Before we visited the 9/11 Memorial last December, J and I had seen a series of TV documentaries aired in honor of last September’s ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. We’d seen interviews with construction workers building Freedom Tower, we’d learned about the design of the memorial itself with its sunken waterfalls marking the footprints of the Twin Towers, and we’d learned the logic behind the arrangement of names on the metal panels rimming those fountains.

So many names

J and I arrived with a scrap of paper upon which I’d written the locations of two names we wanted to find during our visit: Patrick J. Quigley IV, who is buried in a cemetery not far from our house, and Welles Remy Crowther, a Boston College graduate who died after saving a dozen people from the South Tower. J and I never met either man, but their stories helped us put a face on the tragedy, and it felt appropriate to seek out their names in order to pay our respects.

Welles Crowther

As J and I walked around both waterfalls and considered the long, low wall of names surrounding them, I kept thinking of a line from the Psalms, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7, NIV). The Psalms contain prayers of praise and thanksgiving, but they also contain poems of anguish and despair.

World Trade Center

The sunken waterfalls of the Memorial evoke the heavy-heartedness most of us associate with 9/11, with falling water that is eerily reminiscent of both falling buildings and falling bodies. But falling water cannot be wounded: in the form of vapor, falling water rises again. The day J and I visited the Memorial was brisk and breezy, and one of the waterfalls was veiled with mist and a flirtation of rainbows that hinted toward the irrepressible nature of both spirit and beauty.

Hint of rainbow

A waterfall is the opposite of a looming tower: instead of rising up, these waters fall down. The sunken nature of the 9/11 Memorial waterfalls reminded me of a sipapu, the hole inside a Pueblo Indian dwelling that represents the opening through which ancient ancestors arrived in this world.

Falling down

When so many spirits left their bodies on September 11, 2001, where did they go? Did they fall down, like water; did they rise up, like clouds; or did they remain in our midst, like mist? What exactly are the waves and breakers the poet mentions in Psalm 42? Are they the waves of loss, the breakers of despair, or the sea of loved ones who will never be forgotten, even under the shadow of a veil of tears?

Looking back

Click here for more photos of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, taken in December, 2011.