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January 14, 2014

On Jim Estrin’s 9/11 Meditation: Silence and Dust

I’m glad Jim Estrin was featured on the NYT Lens Blog the other day for his exhibition and body of photographs on the sense and pursuit of spirituality. Besides providing the opportunity to enthusiastically recognize Jim for his vision and his prodigious effort as a founder and prime contributor to Lens, it gives me the chance to share a photo I’ve admired.

The fact that spirituality would be subject matter at all in this fractious, commodified and buzz-dominated era is notable enough. The fact that Estrin could have elicited a deep sense of spirit from such a fresh and historic wound is even more notable. More than twelve years out, perhaps its harder to remember the raw nerves and the deep anger and jingoism elicited by 9/11, only heightened by the firestorm over a plan to build an Islamic center and mosque just blocks away.

If you’re not familiar with the image (click for larger size), the photo was taken at Ground Zero during the commemoration of the first anniversary of the attack. The title of the photo is “Silence and Dust, 9/11 Memorial, 2002” and the caption reads:

Rescue workers formed a circle on ground zero for a minute of silence in observance of the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. A strong wind blew dust around the circle.

I’ve seen the photo published in several places and it consistently awes. I always wonder, however, how much the reaction — appropriate to Jim’s mission, of course — is activated by the potent mixture of sadness, symmetry and lyricism alone. What touches me about the photo, however, beyond the eloquence of the ritual, is its audacity and appeal for humanity in the midst of roiling injury and two wars (some would call cultural wars) of retaliation.

For me, the power of Jim Estrin’s human mandala is that the dust blends “our” ash with “their” sand.

(photo: James Estrin/The New York Times)

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