Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Waiting to Exhale

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a review of Rebirth, a film about grief and recovery after Sept. 11. We were fortunate to have a screening of this documentary at the Museum in December, before the Project Rebirth team took it to Sundance. While viewing this film with 373 complete strangers I noticed we had one thing in common. Not a single one of us exhaled during the movie.

From early 2002 through 2009, the Rebirth film crew chronicled the lives of five people directly affected by 9/11. The participants include a survivor from an impact floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC); a firefighter who survived the collapse of the WTC but lost his best friend; a high school student who lost his mother; a young woman who lost her fiancé; and a construction worker who lost his brother, assisted with recovery efforts, and is presently helping to rebuild the site.

The themes of grief, healing, and recovery which, in this context, are associated most closely with September 11, are universal. How do you get past the anger when a loved one has died? How do you live with survivor guilt? How do you keep a family together or feel safe enough to start a new one? These are questions that plague survivors in general, and especially survivors of a shared trauma. We know many Holocaust survivors who lost spouses and children during the war and then created new families in the aftermath. These particular moments in the film teach us how to hold on to our humanity in the face of such sadness.

Interspersed between the interviews there is time-lapse footage of the rebuilding at the World Trade Center site. It is tangible evidence that during period progress took place, even if it was not visible to casual observer. As I walk to the Museum from the R train at Whitehall each morning, I look down Greenwich and smile at the new One World Trade Center rising in the sky. It reminds me there is hope for the future.

Photo of MJH and the new One World Trade Center by Andreas Eymannsberger.

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