Have you ever seen an ugly memorial? Of course not. In fact, memorials are often more beautiful than what laid before it or what they actually symbolize.
Case in point? The 9/11 memorial.
Here’s how the memorial’s website describes it:
…It features two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools… and the Memorial Plaza is one of the most eco-friendly plazas ever constructed. More than 400 trees are planned for the plaza, surrounding the Memorial’s two massive reflecting pools. Its design conveys a spirit of hope and renewal, and creates a contemplative space separate from the usual sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis.
Swamp white oak trees create a rustling canopy of leaves over the plaza. This grove of trees bring green rebirth in the spring, provide cooling shade in the summer and show seasonal color in fall. A small clearing in the grove, known as the Memorial Glade, designates a space for gatherings and special ceremonies.
Unquestionably the Twin Towers were design feats but the experience of this memorial is far different.
So why do we create beautiful memorials when the acts they recall were so ugly? As a society we seek things of beauty because they not only elevate our spirits but force a hard question on us: Is our current reality as magnificent, harmonious or vibrant as the beauty we are currently encountering? If not, maybe we should try to change that reality. As Elaine Scarry points out in On Beauty and Being Just, the pursuit of beauty is really the quest for improvement.
Obviously, the 9/11 memorial reminds that our reality isn’t rosy. Our world is full of people who hate themselves and others, and are willing to hurt people because of this hatred.
While I’m in awe of the splendor of the 9/11 memorial and am proud that we, New Yorkers, are remembering our fallen brothers and sisters so fondly, I also hope that the beauty of the experience encourages us to change our world for the better.