PHANTOM PAIN on September 11th

Brad Holland

Commentary -

From where I stood on Spring Street looking south, I couldn't tell that the first of the twin towers was collapsing. Billowing smoke obscured the building above the plane's entry wound, and as smoke raced down the column, I guessed that it was being sucked downwards by convection. It was only late in the day when I returned to my neighborhood, now quarantined to anyone who couldn't prove residence there, that I realized the towers had disappeared.

The next day, downtown Manhattan was a metropolis of ashes. Beneath a blue sky, everything was grey. With all the power shut off to the area, my building on Pearl Street was unlocked, the elevator dead and the stairs and halls were black until you reached the roof.

World Trade Center
Photography © J. Lisi 2001

Across the chimneytops, a few blocks due west where the towers had been just hours before, you could sense their absence from the skyline, as amputees are said to feel the phantom pain of a missing limb.

The roof above my studio was covered with ashes and littered with charred debris blasted from the 96th floor of one of the towers. In videotapes you can see some of it in the funnels of smoke, millions of papers fluttering like white birds; e-mails and invoices which on Tuesday morning had been important.

Since World War II ended with the atomic bomb in our national back pocket, Americans have taken pride and even comfort in the complexity of our technology. But on September 11, a handful of idealists who believe that God is "pleased" to see thousands of innocent people murdered, turned the weight of that complexity against us. Armed only with matte knives and a death wish, they turned passenger planes into bombs and used them to detonate the horrendous energy stored in all the mountains of steel and concrete that we live and work in.

The awful conceptual breakthrough of this technological judo is now a light bulb going off above the heads of zealots and wackos everywhere, and lost souls, unhappy with their lives or possessed of the belief that they've been sent by God to purify the race, will probe every aspect of modern life for the vulnerability that is the underbelly of complexity. We will have to compete for the future against people who are willing to live in caves and unabomber shacks and who believe that others should live there, too.

The fanatics who started this, whatever their creed, are nihilists. They have nothing to offer humanity but another dark age. This gives us the sentimental edge. But fanatical men willing to live in caves have succeeded before in bringing on a dark age. And we have been promised no more security than was guaranteed to Homer's Greeks, who disappeared in their prime, or to the Romans who opened the gates to the city one day and found Alaric the Goth.

Copyright 2001 Brad Holland Reprinted from the ILLUSTRATORS' NEWS, September 11th Tribute Issue

Brad Holland 2001 All Rights Reserved

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