Since I’ve been taking the Santa Monica Community Police Academy I’ve been over to the Police Station a lot. I don’t just mean for class, I mean on my own to take pictures. (The building is really gorgeous if you’re an ‘architecture nerd.’) The most important thing I wanted to photograph was the 9/11 memorial that sits outside the Fire Department’s suite of offices.
As you can see, the base is beautiful. Sitting on top of the base is an actual piece of the World Trade Center.
I didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11/2001. It didn’t affect me in the way that people who lost a loved one/ones were (and still are) affected. I woke up that morning to instructions to turn on the TV, and watched the news with a mixture of disbelief and horror. (What? No. This can’t be happening. It looks like a movie. What are they talking about? This has to be a trick, but I don’t get it. Someone please make this make sense, I’m begging you.) And then the second tower fell. Like so many others I watched the murder of I don’t even know how many people live on television. I’m not sure when in all of that I started crying, but I know it took me a long time to stop. After that there weren’t very many tears, just a sort of numb fog, some mild form of shock maybe, as reality shifted in a way that can never shift back. I personally didn’t lose anyone, but as Americans we all lost something that day.
No one told me there was a 9/11 memorial in Santa Monica, it was something I saw out of the corner of my eye when class took me to a different part of the building than usual. I probably could have snapped a few quick pictures right then, but I wanted to come back and take the time to do it properly. I don’t mean take pictures ‘properly,’ I’m talking about the whole experience. To stand there and take a moment. To think about what I was looking at and what it means. To think about those people I saw die, and all the rest we lost that day. You know, the things you are supposed to do at a memorial. It’s what memorials are for. (Isn’t it?)
Walking home I just kept thinking about how some person (or group of people probably) had to decide which pieces of rubble were “salvageable” and which weren’t. What kind of base to attach. What to put on that base, and what it should say. And who should get it. (I’m assuming there were more places under consideration than available memorials to be shared.) And how much that job must suck. Not because of the work itself, which I consider terribly important. Because… well, because of what that work isn’t. It isn’t an archeological excavation with all of the emotional distance that history provides. It isn’t like deciding which museum gets the right to display historical artifacts, these memorials are going to places where people who lost loved ones might be. Places where people who helped in the aftermath might be. How much that must weigh on you each and every day. How your mind might replay that footage from the news on a loop while you were at work. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s something you get used to eventually, but I doubt it. If it was me I think I’d be so sad all of the time, even though I knew what I was doing really mattered.
I went back to the station to take my pictures. I know this piece of metal is just that, a piece of metal. It can’t give us answers or closure or bear witness in any way. This memorial is not a grave, and to treat it as such would be ridiculous. But it’s also not just a piece of metal anymore either, it is something else now, something bigger. I’m not explaining this well but I’m going to trust that other people feel the same way, because someone had left a red rose.
I actually had to go back to the station a second time to take pictures of the memorial because I noticed something in my first batch of pictures. I’d mostly convinced myself it was a trick of the light, but nope…
Do you see it yet? Ignore the grammatical nightmare that is the rest of the sentence. (Is it one sentence or is it really two? Between the capitalization and the unreliable punctuation I honestly can’t tell.) I’m drawing your attention to one particular area. “It’s” with an apostrophe is the contraction of “it is.” If you’re using “its” in the possessive you omit the apostrophe.
Look… I get it. I make more typos than probably anyone you or I have ever known, it’s not about the typo. Truly. It’s about a typo there. In stone. On a memorial to the people who died on 9/11. This isn’t a participation trophy from a bowling league we’re talking about here. And it isn’t just a piece of metal on top of a pretty stone. It means something more.
I posted pictures of the typo on social media along with something overly melodramatic no doubt. First someone in the police department reached out to me to let me know that the fire department was going to reach out to me. Then the fire department reached out to me on twitter to let me know they were looking at cost effective ways to correct it. I’m pretty sure I know a way they can get it fixed for free or very little cost, so I sent them my idea and offered to help. That was the last I heard so I don’t know what may have happened since then, but I hope whoever read my message knew I was serious. I try to live by the ‘golden rule’ of complaining and only complain about things I’m prepared to help try to fix, and I will take up a collection, throw a bake sale, whatever it takes to get that stupid apostrophe filled in. I can’t do anything about the grammar, but the apostrophe is fixable. I know it is, it has to be. (For the record I fail at that ‘golden rule’ stuff a lot. Like, a lot. But I do try.)
I know this might seem like a dumb thing to have strong feelings over. I don’t quite know how to articulate why it is so important to me. Maybe because generally we pay attention to the things that are important to us and this typo had to have been seen by any number of people who didn’t look closely enough to see it, or saw it and didn’t care enough to correct it. (Right? I mean, the same person who picked out the quote for the side of the memorial couldn’t have been the same person who did the etching or packed it for shipping or… sigh.) Maybe it’s because if I had lost someone on 9/11 and I saw this for the first time I’d feel insulted that so little care went into creating it.
I know that a memorial is not a grave and the base is not headstone, but it’s not just a piece of metal on display either. Maybe these memorials, collectively, are the grave of that intangible thing we lost as a country that day.