On or around the first weekend after Labor Day in 2003, the start of my sophomore year in college, I was standing around in an outfield in Canarsie with a couple other guys, waiting for the coaches to hit some fungos out our way, and a couple of freshmen recently arrived to NYU, and the club baseball team, were bonding, in that tentative jocular way: “Have you hit up any of the bars yet?” “A little bit, went with my roommates to Josie Woods the other night, you?” “Nah, was gonna check out a couple of places this weekend, you?” “Yeah, like on Friday or Saturday, I probably won’t go out on Thursday, because, you know, September 11th and all…” “Oh, yeah, word.”
All this came back to me when I read in the Observer that the Tribute in Light, the two gigantic searchlight beams pointing up into the sky over the Financial District, may be discontinued after the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks next month.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and others who have funded the tribute, have no plans to extend their support past this year, and so the Municipal Art Society, the organization behind the twin towers of light, are hoping to raise the funds necessary to continue—the logistics are pretty daunting, between the equipment, the tech professionals, and the electric bill.
And anyway, ten years is a nice, round number, and a good time to decide whether any given gesture of remembrance ought to be made official and permanent, or whether we can get back to writing poetry after Auschwitz and dumb college kids can get back to getting drunk without. As public remembrances go, the Tribute in Light is a nice one, ghostly and minimalist but also reassuring, in the way that Art Spiegelman’s instantly iconic New Yorker cover understandably wasn’t. Will the anniversary of the attacks mean anything less without it, though? (In my high school, kids used to stick up posters on Pearl Harbor Day, touchingly, so I’m not overly worried about short memories.) Especially now that the permanent 9/11 Memorial is actually, finally, opening.
Public displays of grief have the potential to be bullying and prescriptive in a way that dishonors memory, especially in regards to an event as disastrously and sanctimoniously politicized as 9/11. So maybe the dimming of the lights actually comes as something of a relief—a more private, dignified commemoration of loss. That said, I’d personally pay for them to stay on every night for all eternity if it meant baseball teams stopped playing “God Bless America” during the 7th Inning Stretch.