The best places are high places: fresh air with Life lying there like you’ve never seen her before – sunburned and mottled or slender and solid like sea glass. Sometimes you cry, other times you laugh, and if you do neither it’s because you’re not looking right. It’s hard to look right. You have to be there seeing with your mind and your eyes at once, catching all things and each one thing simultaneously: the forest and the great fir under which flows the freshest water you’ve ever tasted. It takes time and concentration, but we’ve all done it. We had to when we were young.
When we’re young we understand the necessity of an unencumbered view. We quickly start crawling, audaciously begin walking, and then we climb. We do each of these things as soon as we can, desperate to be accessing new reaches. We don’t forget where we were and sometimes we go back, but mostly we forge forward with steely eyes, grinning at where we’ve been and vivaciously moving ahead.
Some days I walk along and I find myself looking at my feet. Kids never look at their feet. It’s like they’re always standing on the edge of a cliff, looking out from in, seeing everything and unquestionably registering Life’s infinity and knowing beauty. We can still be there, adults on the cliff of Life, and when you’re there, you register why and you never forget.
A high place is essential in wartime. A warrior needs to know where what is: the snipers and the bombs and the prisoners and the civilians so he, and nobody he loves, is knocked off into the final fall. The thing is, we’re always falling when we’re at war: a bunch of big people holding millions of lives in each hand climbing a crooked ladder built by the dreams of their dead fathers. They kick and bite each other, the big people, scratching and smashing until one knocks the other off or somebody surrenders and relinquishes his rungs. Often the big people fall, having seen nothing at the top, confused and crying with the agony of the little people breaking their fall. Then the big folk look at one another, lighter with the loss of all the things they’ve loved, and their eyes drift to the ladder, no longer finding allure in its empty metal carcass. Not all climbs lead to high places.
One doesn’t only fall in wartime. There are cracks in mountaintops and rotten branches in trees and sometimes something conspires against you and you’re knocked from your perch, free falling and forsaken. It always hurts to land in the mud and some people lie there, never climbing again, convinced their safest suffocating in the filth. Don’t do that. Get up. Simply standing is extraordinary when you’ve been lying for too long.
The other day, as I walked along my paved planned path, I took a turn that I’d always noticed before but rarely tread. I walked into the Richard Brush Art Gallery. It was featuring a 9/11 exhibit and I went from display to display, prospect to prospect, seeing the expressed dark and shattered landscapes of Iraq and America and the little people held in the hands of both nations. One man was living in a room getting shot from a paintball gun manned by a button on the Internet. He told viewers of his website they were allowed to shoot him, unprovoked, and watch him flinch in response to their touch on his continuous webcam feed and they did. They shot him tens of thousands of times. Do they understand the meaning of their mouse clicks? Another person was tattooing all of the casualties of Iraq war on his back, dot after dot, the fluorescent Iraqi civilians and soldiers outshining the red Americans like a spotlight outshines a candle.
The piece that moved me the most, the piece that I spent hours pouring over while tears spontaneously drizzled down my cheeks and face, was the book Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive by Joel Meyerowitz. Meyerowitz took me to a new place, a place above the one I knew, a more true Groundzero. His book is a panorama of words and people and pictures dragging the reader over the twisted metal refuse, cutting the reader with the task of unearthing and removing dreams, lives, loves, metal and concrete. You are one person: witness the lives of hundreds and their death; hold the lonely crying father that the newspaper printings could only mark with letters, forgotten with tomorrow’s changing headline; see the preschool with the blocks out of their boxes and the infantile jackets, now dusty, hanging on the wall; lay to rest the fallen monuments and the cells that gave them life. Meyerowitz brings the reader to an intimate vantage point of death: exploring the eerie beauty of the Underworld and diluting time through frozen images; allowing all to pay respects at the hallowed resting places of people pushed too-soon by malevolent forces; explosions of hatred; mouse clicks of Satan.
Go to the Richard Brush Gallery. The exhibit lasts until October 22. See the Hell our retribution spawned and understand where it came from. Watch a million arms working together, lifting the Twin-Tower jagged shrapnel out of the heart of our nation. See America fall and cry in the mud, cry with her, and when she stands, stand too. Notice that when the little people selflessly and lovingly resurrected their big person that big person stood and swung at the alleged perpetrator and they’ve been grappling for over a decade. Wonder why.