Memory of 911: No Photos, No Images, Just Memories

911 has profoundly affected the nation. I’m originally from New York having grown up in Queens and worked in Manhattan including downtown. So now-gone World Trade Center and the death of so many people has changed me too.

I was living in Los Angeles when the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was getting ready for work at a local university. The TV was off so I had no idea that NYC, the United States, and the world was changing. My mother rang me and told me to turn on the television. I won’t describe what I saw because so many of us saw the footage repeatedly on CNN and other channels.

I called my cousin who worked steps away from the World Trade Center. People everywhere were jamming phone circuits. I like so many other people were worried about family and friend could not get through. I called my mother again and I learned my cousin had not gone into work that day. She was safe.

In shock, really feeling like a zombie, I went to work. LAX, the international airport in Los Angeles, stood between me and work. The airport and the streets around were shut down by the authorities. So I drove and drove until I found a hole to go through.

At the university, I went to administration and asked if classes were in session. No one had ever experienced anything like this so I got no answers. They too were in shock.

I headed to my first class and five of my students were waiting for me. We all knew what had happened and were stunned. I asked them what they were thinking and feeling. Each student shared. And then we all cried. I didn’t go to any of my other classes.

I did go to Faithful Central Church in Inglewood where a service had been quickly organized for the evening. I wept and fell over unable to stand up to the atrocity and destruction. Three women caught me before I hit the ground. The women held me for a long time.

A few days later I had to get on a plane for work. There were military everywhere with semi-automatic weapons. It was the beginning of the restrictions on traveling and luggage. I was scared to get on a plane but I forged on. It’s that New England stoicism I suppose.

In November, just a few months later, I went to New York to meet my cousin and my parents. My cousin resisted me when I said I wanted to walk around downtown. I did get out alone though.  The cut-through of buildings I’d used in the past  as a short-cut to avoid crowds on the streets were heavily guarded and were no more. Military were everywhere. I was asked to show my ID, which was my driver’s license. It was disorienting downtown  in a different and frightening way. It was not the bright lights, big city disorientation.

My parents arrived downtown a few hours after my arrival. We ate lunch with my cousin and then my father wanted to go to the World Trade Center. He had worked most of his adult life at Banker’s Trust across the street from the towers so this place had great significance for him.

We walked over and my father stood silent in front of the barriers that made it impossible to see anything that remained of the buildings. Fliers covered the wall of missing friends and family–all those missing loved ones. My mother did not understand his silence and started to rush him to go. She had not worked in Manhattan so the destruction meant little to her. I turned to my mother and said, “You have to give him time, Mom. This is where he spent most of his work life. This is where he met his colleagues and most of his friends here at Bankers Trust across from the World Trade Center.” So we waited. He said nothing but turned away from where the towers once stood and walked. We followed silently behind him.

I will always remember the World Trade Center and the people. I cannot count how many times I got off the subway early in the morning with a flood of dresses and suits with people. All of us ran swiftly through of the towers on marble floors. I ran up the stairs instead of taking the escalators with my jacket or sweater flapping around me into the streaks of sunlight and the drift of clouds, into the cool air of fall. That was my World Trade Center.

Kanye West’s Power: Religious Metaphors Including Those in Nature

Kanye West’s Power, his latest video, is a locomotive painting. The director Marco Brambilla draws from Greek, Judeo-Christian, Egyptian, Hindu, and Buddhist religious metaphors in what is a visual video masterpiece.

The video opens with West’s eyes lit as if superhuman.

Behind him are Ionic columns, typical of Greek architecture. The director choose the Ionic columns over the Doric and Corinthian design because the latter are more complex in architecture, design, and engineering. Among the Greeks and according to architects, the Ionic design is the greatest of the three columns. The Ionic is more complex in design including scrolls representing education and vertical lines akin to rams horns. In addition, unlike the other designs, the engineering, the design is more resistant to earthquakes.

Behind West and the columns are clouds that grow darker from the beginning to end of the video. I see something similar in scripture. In the Torah and the Old Testament, Moses went up into the mountain where God was the cloud (Exodus 24:15). When God was angry there was thunder and lightning, making the people tremble. (Exodus 19:16)

Returning to West, an industrial chain hangs around his neck. It is far heavier than any human could hold up, indicating his godlike power. From the chain hangs a rather large pendant or ornament with the Egyptian god Horus. He was the greatest of the Egyptian gods with the head of a falcon and the body of a man. In his many manifestations, he was a god of war, protection, and the sky. As the god of the sky, a connection could be made to the clouds in the sky, the backdrop in the video.

Fanning out away from the clouds, the columns, and West are two women with antelopes horns and pounding staffs. The horns are those of antelopes. Two Hindu deities, Vayu, lord of the winds, and Chandra, a lunar god rode on antelopes. The pounding staffs allude to Moses using the lowly herder’s staff to do God’s will: Moses faced Pharaoh as they struggled over freeing the Hebrews from bondage. In one memorable moment Moses staff transformed into a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians did the same but Moses’ snake devoured the magicians snakes.

Winged human creatures sit at Kanye’s feet with connections to two religious images. Cherubim protected the ark containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandment as noted in the Old Testament. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the garuda is a bird-like human that is divine.

Above West are a pair on either side pouring out oil from jars filled with never-ending oil. Throughout the Old Testament, powerful kings like David are anointed with oil by prophets to affirm their power and leadership through God’s anointing. In the New Testament, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a perfume–in some translations it is oil or ointment.

The video is only 90 seconds and begins to speed up towards the end. A veil drops, perhaps a reference to the rent or torn veil at the temple after Jesus’ crucifixion. For Christians this tear represents abandoning the temple; the old, Judaism is replaced with the new, Christianity. The power shifts.

In the far corners of the video, grapes are in a bowl, proffered as an offering by two women. This is certainly a reference to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility.

Throughout the video, we see images of knives and swords in the hands of men. A knife comes down from above through a gold crown or Celtic circlet–consider the shift of Celtic tribalism to kingdoms in which kings and queens wore crowns to industrialism represented in the chain around Kanye’s neck–above West’s head. As the video comes to a close, two men come down on West with swords as if in ritual sacrifice.

The video ends. We never learn West’s fate. Does he remain powerful? Was his power an illusion? Does he live? Does he die?

Do a few lines from the lyrics might answer these questions: “No one man should have all that power//The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours//Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power”?

Everything but West is a mirror image in the video. Why? We should look at ourselves in the mirror as we struggle with the meaning of power. One look at the image and there is human frailty.

The video with all its metaphors is a masterpiece.