Sanitising suffering

A couple of years ago we were in New York and, inevitably, went to the 9/11 site. From a sightseer’s point of view there isn’t much to see. It’s mainly a building site and all very impersonal. On the way back, however, we passed a small chapel with a cross in front of it. What struck me was that the cross was made out of some iron girders from the wreckage of the bombing and had been made by some of the workers involved in the rescue work. It is not a “pretty” cross. It just stands there as a powerful symbol. A note in front of it says that this is only a temporary home. It would eventually be moved to  a 9/11 museum.

I found this so sad. In its current location it is part of the landscape of 9/11. It is rough and ready and stopped me in my tracks. I found it a fitting memorial to suffering. (Coventry Cathedral has a similar piece. They have a sculpture of the head of Christ made from the metal of a car crash. Another good fit.) Putting the 9/11 cross into a museum will sanitise it. It will become a piece of art to be photographed by eager tourists who will add it to their “9/11 Experience”. Saint Paul talks about the “offence of the Cross”. He seems to have understood that a cross was about death . suffering and pain. There was nothing romantic about being crucified. It was slow, painful, humiliating and irrevocable. As was 9/11 or 7/7.

Suffering is not romantic. It hurts and all too often demeans. Certainly for some people it can be turned into something creative but that is the headline story. The small print tells a story of struggles with depression and despair. With fury and impotent rage. With the question “Why?” being asked with no expectation of an answer.

9/11 has no “answer”. Individuals are still working to come to terms with their loss. Or with their guilt at having survived it. Their struggle is not sanitised as a museum exhibit that is enclosed in an air conditioned museum. It is on daily display, exposed for all to see. And we find this uncomfortable. Much better to visit it and leave. But perhaps that’s why the 9/11 cross should be left alone. That way it is seen  everyday by ordinary people. Who are those who will keep 9/11 alive.



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