Lives used to be more conscribed geographically. People would
live in ancestral homes, stay in one town for their whole lives, and travel within a short distance. Cars, planes, and economic
expansions changed that pattern. We move frequently, call many towns "home town" during our lives, and usually do not become
emotionally attached to public structures. I'm old enough to remember a time when moving meant down the block, not across
the country. A time when construction proceeded at a slower pace and the old wasn't torn down with gleeful abandon. However,
even today in our constant mobility, we seek for a sense of place. We find comfort in returning to familiar shopping malls,
churches, and city locations. And we found out just how much emotional attachment we have to these places when the terrorists
vaporized the World Trade Center.
Our public buildings and spaces are the 20 and 21 centuries'
form of the town square or the local tavern. We gather there in time of joy and in time of sorrow. The walls, the boundaries,
the perimeters, are like gentle arms enclosing us. Holding us together from the buffeting affects of an uncertain world. As
I write this, 6 days to Christmas, another public space is experiencing destruction. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
in upper Manhattan, is on fire. Oh, the building will stand, it is made of immense blocks of stone, but what will happen to
the contents inside? The smoke damage, in the least, will keep it closed to services during the holidays. At worse, the precious
artifacts it houses inside will be beyond repair.
One individual remarked on the morning news, "how can this happen
so close the Christmas, so close to the World Trade Center disaster? We came here to pray after that, and now....what will
happen?" This space, that formerly was just a famous cathedral,
a gathering place for Episcopalians from the neighborhood, has become
a container of memories for many, many
individuals looking for solace in their grief. And now, it too
will be shuttered, barricaded, no arms to encircle hurting hearts.
Today I feel that same knotted feeling in the pit of my stomach
that I felt as I watched the WTC buildings burning. That same sense of something precious being hurt, being taken from my
life. I'm not Episcopalian and do not live in Manhattan. However, I had frequented the Cathedral with dear friends who lived
in the area. We walked by it to go to restaurants, attended concerts there, and toured it discussing it's art works. My friends
are long gone from that area but these memories vividly remind me of them.
After the WTC disappeared I wondered what other parts of Manhattan
had emotional meaning to me. What other places 'anchored' me to sections of my past, or gave me continuity in the present.
The Cathedral of St John the Divine did not jump to mind. Not until I heard it was in danger of being irrevocable damaged.
Perhaps that is also a symptom of our 21st century life style. We have so many places to frequent, so many paths we travel
daily, that we do not appreciate the psychological and spiritual importance they hold for us. We walk on as if in a dream,
and then as the dream is shattered by some grotesque reality, we realize just how transient are these places.
2001 Leona Seufert