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Remembrance, Reverence, Resilience

by Lynn Farmer, member, Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur, GA

Remembrance, Reverence, Resilience

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, I had hoped for a way to commemorate the individual and collective loss and grief of those days. But I was also aware of my longing to redeem that time, in some measure, by providing a chance to focus, as well, on the incredible response of individuals and the ensuing examples of the triumph of the human spirit, which continued to create, imagine, love, and observe the daily routine, in the midst of what was often unspeakable shock and grief.
Before the tragedy, I had last been in NYC in March of '01 with a former student, then at Yale, who had invited me up to hear Mary Oliver read at the 92nd Street Y. I love this city of great art, music, and theater, this place of soaring architecture and quaint neighborhoods, this true melting pot of food, faces, and names from all over the world. And by that time, I'd captured the moments and expressions and patterns of over 15 years of travel to this city of dreams and possibilities. An arts conference, for which I was registered in October '01, just when the planes began to fly again, lured me back to this great city, and I returned without hesitation or fear.

While I was there, I delivered $3,000 to The New York Times Neediest Fund from Chamblee High School, gathered by my students in the Amnesty International/Human Rights Club. In addition, I carried to ten Manhattan fire stations the customized booklets the school made for each of these stations, containing notes and letters from students, faculty, and staff. There I talked with those who had seen and suffered so much and lost many of their own. They shared their hot chocolate, their stories, and the names that are still with me today.
I found myself in the middle of a city with ruins still smoking, fences plastered with missing faces, hands pitching in to do what was needed, and a spirit that could not be crushed. And I was reminded that this global tragedy, with over 90 countries represented in the towers, was forever linked to the parallel tragedies in Shanksville, PA, and at the Pentagon. The firefighters urged me to go to the site and bear witness. So with that sense you feel of having another chance to live life to the fullest, another chance to love more deeply, another chance to notice the wonder of creation, I paid my respects with a prayer and a poem. A firefighter gave me a ticket to a round table the next month, "New Yorkers Talk About New York," so I returned at Thanksgiving and again in March '02. The black and white photographs show the city and its people as they were, as they are—because of what happened and in spite of what happened.
At Oakhurst, we created a space in our small chapel and an opportunity for folks to come in to reflect on that time in their lives ten years ago. There was poetry by Billy Collins, W. H. Auden, Maxine Hong Kingston, Lucille Clifton, Wendell Berry, and others, backed in black along the walls, for reading and reflection. There were candles to light in remembrance and a notebook in which to write a memory, thought, or prayer. In addition, there was an opportunity to join the 9/11 Tribute Movement and "remember by doing," signing a promise or signing up at, a way to turn the unfathomable horror and sadness of a single day into creative and helpful action in the world.
The centerpiece of the exhibit was my black and white photography in NYC, before and in the aftermath of 9/11. Oakhurst member Peter Junker, formerly of the Art Institute of Chicago, curated the exhibit of 157 photographs, which were paired in two large, black albums. These albums were placed on the chapel altar, on either side of a brass angel holding a white candle. Five of the photographs were enlarged and graced the walls with the poems. Over 115 people visited the exhibit, which continued for the rest of the month in the church library.

  photos by Lynn Farmer

One comment written in the response notebook reads, “Powerful. Healing. Moving.” And another declares, “What still remains, after the cataclysm left that deep gash across on our lives—May grief soften us and bring us to a deeper compassion—” The exhibit's purpose was fulfilled: to provide through photography and  a counterpoint of poetry a chance for reflection, not only on loss, but also on possibility; not only on the fracture of one day, but also on the ultimate one-ness of all creation; not only on destruction, but also on the unquenchable human spirit that lives, creates, and acts in ways that answer loss with love.

—Lynn Farmer is a member of Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga., a BPFNA Partner Congregation.

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