Remembering those we lost.
My life story is the story of everyone I’ve ever met.
~ Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
It was 8:59 am. I was standing in the kitchen of my son’s daycare, starring at the television in utter disbelief at the atrocity of events that were taking place in New York City. I left my daughter at school and sat with my son, who was barely four years old. I stood in total shock trying to interpret the flood of information that was coming across the television screen. The ingestion of the information was hard to swallow.
The television reports, airplanes flying within audible range, the blare of police sirens, ambulances, fire trucks, random screams of fear, and the peculiar silence of the neighborhood residents – were a jumble of commotion. I will always remember the emotional residue from that day.
I don’t believe any of us will forget that day on September 11, 2001, where we were in the world, what we were doing and what we were thinking. I thought about all of my friends in the upper, lower, and midtown of Manhattan. I thought about my eldest sister who was scheduled to fly to California that morning for business. I thought about a dear sister-friend who worked on the 11th floor of Twin Tower One, but never made it to the office because she overslept. I thought about the colleagues and extended family members who worked at the Pentagon. I thought about all of the travelers on the four collective airplanes, their families and loved ones. I thought about my very own children, our future, and the very [concealed but evident] state of our nation. I thought about many things on that day, existent and unidentified.
We all have a story, and we all take a journey somewhere. The horrific events of 9/11 were yet another day that connected the souls of folks everywhere. Not surprisingly, people from coast to coast connected in authentic ways they never imagined they could, from housing strangers to donating blood to giving support, encouragement, and assistance in any way they could. On that day, I believe most people saw distress, felt empathy, but gave graciously.
The power of the human spirit is one of great manifestation. It is through all we experience and learn that enables us to realize the miracles of each day. The wonder of existence allows us to connect to one another in ways that are necessary, restorative, and divine. An inspired illustration of this was shared through the making of the Academy Award Best Picture Nominated film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Opposite of popular critics’ contemptuous opinion, I found it to be one of the most outspoken and compelling dramas I have ever seen. In many cases, the Director Stephen Daldry was accused of having an “aestheticized agenda,” for creating an appalling adaptation of both the novel and the event, being cynical, disturbed, and bearing a film that “buries its soul beneath its own pretentious rubble….like an offbeat vehicle for healing than it does a kaleidoscopic prison.” [Slant Magazine, December 2011]
More unbiased critics thought it was, “nicely captured with a child’s-eye view of the world kind to its audience letting us leave with just a bit of hope,” “emotionally powerful, and a very simple, human story about a boy who loses his father…..touches the heart without revolting the mind.” [Review by James Berardinelli 2011]
“People aren’t like numbers, they’re more like letters; and those letters want to become stories, and dad said that stories need to be shared,” narrated by the character of Oskar Schell, played by 13-year-old, Thomas Horn.
It is through this sheer goodness that this very story accentuates the beauty of human connection, courage, communication, loss, grief, forgiveness, resilience, and closure; issues we encounter, but apprehensively face to resolve. The events of 9/11 both modified and intensified Oskar’s perception of everything he knew, from what he saw to what he heard to how he heard it to what he felt on the inside – particularly loud and undeniably close.
The essence of Oskar Schell’s heavy boots signify much of the emotional turmoil he walks around with and has endured – not just the rainy boots he occasionally wears to collect the raindrops but his tears, fears, and obligations shared with all of the people he encounters along his journey. Their stories of love and loss bestow him great insight and make him reluctantly humble.
In search of the lock and owner of the key he finds in his father’s broken blue vase, he meditates to himself, “I like keys. I thought for a minute, and then I got heavy, heavy boots.”
The delineation of heavy boots symbolizes the emotional soul in us all. The “boots” we wear are significant to our journeys. While our individual journeys may be ahead of some and behind others, we should in no way have illusions that we have at all arrived. We all wear heavy boots from time to time, through the emotional, psychological, and mental burdens we carry around with us. With each step we take through life and we not only create our own path, but also fill the shoes of those before us. How we navigate teaches us how to continue communicating and evolving in the world.
Significantly, our boots connect us. The 343 firefighters and paramedics that rescued the many and died on September 11, 2001 wore heavy boots. From the time their feet hit the ground running to the time they entered the Twin Towers, their journeys were already taking flight, to places both familiar and unknown. The 3,051 children who lost parents on that day continue to wear heavy boots. The citizens of New York City that endured the 99 days of fires that continued to burn after that attack all wear heavy boots. In New York City, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania and across the world – we’ve all loved and lost something here.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I suppose if these same critics have assumed a condemnatory review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, they have also possibly, perhaps missed its’ most important message all together. From the “birds-eye” view of a child’s perspective, we see how to seek clarity, inner peace, and move beyond personal loss through an unfortunate storm of life. It speaks to the significance of how our communicative worlds connect through time and silence.
Not assuming that we can in due course heal the wounds of the world since the attacks on 9/11, but through connecting of our journeys, like Oskar Schell, there is hope and we can move on. Yes – we can.
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Love and Light for your Tuesday!
Image: Aerial view of New York Financial District of Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Hudson River at sunset.