Monumental Expression: Dark Elegy and the Edification of Hope

   If you have ever misplaced something of importance, then you are familiar with the feeling of loss and regret.  In accepting the death of a loved one this sense of loss runs even deeper, reaching to the very core of your existence. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, explained the process of grief in terms of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally – acceptance. At first, denial of the recent death serves as a shock absorber or defense mechanism. However, the most obvious and common feeling to occur is anger, as the person moves through psychological crisis– and this will often give way to meditative thoughts on how things could have been different had other circumstances been in play. Despair and depression set in as the grieving person struggles to find meaning in the death of a loved one, and finally there is a realization of acceptance and the ability to move on. For each person, the realization of this acceptance is different, involving a path to insight that is varied and unique. Many of those reading this article would say they have experienced this path and can identify with Kübler-Ross.

Stages Of Grief – Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

The surviving family members of those that have perished in a terrorist attack are no different, but the process is much more intense and involves a psychological need for catharsis – otherwise risking the onset of post traumatic stress disorder or some other psychological scar. In short, a person can easily be enveloped in darkness without a positive reference point to pull them through. No one exemplifies this better than Suse Ellen Lowenstein, a New York artist who designed and created perhaps the most cathartic edification of grief in the modern world, especially in reference to acts of terrorism. She has been a strong proponent for a national monument dedicated to the victims of terrorism, and she has very personal reasons for doing so.

On December 21, 1988, Lowenstein’s son boarded a plane at London’s Heathrow Airport, bound for New York’s JFK International Airport and the celebration of Christmas. Not long after takeoff, a bomb detonated, raining debris on Lockerbie, Scotland and killing all 259 people onboard, as well as 11 people on the ground. An artist by trade, Lowenstein sought catharsis through sculpting, casting herself in the pose she found herself when she first heard the news that her young son had perished – in a process very similar to the counseling technique of “family sculpting.” Furthermore she sought other women who had lost loved ones in the Lockerbie bombing, casting their unique poses just has she had cast her own. Lowenstein’s description of her technique can be viewed in a video posted elsewhere on this site.  As Jerry Adler of Newsweek Magazine so aptly described it, her finished work – called “Dark Elegy” – edifies kneeling women with indistinct faces in various poses, “clutching at the air or cradling their heads.” Lowenstein petitioned the U.S. Senate to make her work of labor the national monument dedicated to all victims of terrorism, but her efforts were turned away.

There is a unique point of debate when considering a monument to the victims of terrorism. As Adler also noted in 2001, for the families of the victims it is “obvious that an American citizen who was killed by terrorists was not just a casualty, but an unwitting martyr to his country.” For many average Americans, victims of terrorism are simply fatalities, similar to murder victims or those that have died in traffic accidents. In contrast, to the families that have lost family members in a senseless act of terror, they are heroes to be honored and remembered for the sacrifice of their lives. It is a sense of death – and the acceptance of death – that moves beyond normal grief and reaches into the realm of martyrdom.

A Portion Of Dark Elegy – Syracuse University

Surviving family members like Lowenstein struggle to find a deeper meaning in the death of their loved one – and this is a struggle that stretches the mind and reaches inward to the very depths of existential thought concerning the meaning of life. “When terrorism strikes and it kills your son, or your husband or your wife, everyone is stripped truly to the same level. There is no skin color; there are no rich people or poor people. All people are stripped to the same level of humanity,” Lowenstein has explained. Shaken to the very core of your soul by an act of violence, what positive can you find in life to give meaning to the senseless and tragic death of someone you love so much? The answer can be found in the obvious need for peace that these deaths present to a nation and the whole world. Like Lowenstein’s sculpture, a national monument dedicated to all victims of terrorism should carry a universal appeal for peace. Shining like a guiding light in the midst of darkness, it would serve as a reminder of the senseless hate and vengeance that claimed the lives of unsuspecting victims  – and a message to all peace loving people in the world that such acts have no place in society. In that sense, it should be a monument to hope – something that makes you reach deeper into your soul to find the positive in the midst of tragedy. In Lowenstein’s own words, a national monument to the victims of terrorism would not only honor those that have died, but also serve as “a universal appeal for peace and dignity for all victims of senseless hate and vengeance called terrorism  – and will be a beacon for all peace loving people.”

Many thanks to Suse Lowenstein for her efforts in proofreading this article. You can visit her website by clicking this link.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause. If you have already signed, who else do you know that could?

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Connection to Tranquility: The Calgary Peace Bridge

Located in the Province of Alberta, the City of Calgary is the home of 1,096,833 residents and the fifth largest metropolitan area in Canada. Also claiming 120,000 employees, it is a bustling municipality that is expected to grow substantially, with forecasts of approximately 40,000 new inhabitants and at least 60,000 additional workers by the year 2035. With so many commuters making their way to the city from the community of Sunnyside (which lies to the north of Calgary), plans for urban growth eventually turned to a means of accommodating a growing number that travel “by foot, bicycle, or in-line skates in and out of the city centre.” The result of this planning is now evident in a very unique pedestrian bridge that resolved a geographic dilemma presented by the Bow River, but which also signifies the need for world brotherhood and peace. Calgary is no stranger to the promotion of international cooperation, having hosted the XV Olympic Winter Games in February of 1988, which included the participation of fifty-seven nations and 1,423 athletes. Hence, it is probably quite natural the municipality would plan and construct a bridge that lies at the forefront of innovative architectural technique, and sports direct ties to a designer that played a major role in the aftermath and recovery from 911.

The Calgary Peace Bridge Is Helical With No Submerged Piers

The issue of worldwide cooperation and harmony seem to be a major concern of the city, from the top down – since the mayor has been known to declare an International Day of Peace and the city has even gone so far as to sponsor events celebrating peace. The city even declared the summer of 2012 in Calgary as the “Summer of Peace.” Likewise, the University of Calgary is home to the Consortium for Peace Studies, which awards a yearly peace prize to a person who has made the world “a safer and less violent place.” Keenly aware of events in New York City that occurred on September 1, 2001, as well as the exhausting effort to rebuild the area around ground zero, Calgary chose Santiago Calatrava, the internationally known Spanish engineer and architect who designed plans for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center PATH Terminal that had been destroyed in the horrific attacks of 911. Calatrava’s projects have been known to take on spiritual dimensions like this terminal, which when finished will resemble “a bird being released from a child’s hand.” In the case of the Calgary Peace Bridge, a peace-loving city reached out to the architect that had already achieved notoriety in communicating messages with his designs.

Receiving funding from the city’s capital budget, the construction of the Peace Bridge received approval on September 8, 2008. Its structure is helical, gently arching across the river without the aid of piers submerged in the water below. Calatrava had the bridge fashioned in Spain and shipped to Calgary in parts to be assembled on the scene at a temporary structure built upstream from the intended location, but routine inspection showed that some of the welds did not meet quality standards, and the assembly process screeched to a halt while the city made arrangements with local inspectors to verify and approve the construction. Originally intended to be dedicated in the fall of 2010, delays postponed the event until March 24, 2012, much to the chagrin of the Calgary citizenry.  Celebration of the grand opening included a blessing from an elder of the Blackfoot Nation, as well as “poetry, a Chinese lion dance, veterans parade and music from local entertainers.”  The bridge is intended purely for pedestrians and cyclists – no motorized vehicles. Originally, authorities believed that approximately 5000 daily commuters would use it as a means of accessing the downtown area of Calgary, but the actual number since its inception has been 6000 per day.

However, the propagation of peace does not come without cost – or criticism for that matter. With building delays that hindered its completion for well over a year, many cynics have denounced the Calgary Peace Bridge for its cost, which they claim ran well over budget. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) placed the bridge on a short list for its annual award for the most wasteful project in Canada when it comes to the use of taxpayers’ money. However, city officials countered these accusations, stating that the final cost would likely be about $30,400 per square meters, making it more economical than similar bridges that cater to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. Other criticism has concerned the contract for Calatrava’s services, which in the opinion of some was granted without competition from other sources – in particular designers native to Calgary or Canada.

Nevertheless, there are those that have stood up to support the bridge – maintaining in the spirit of John Lennon that it’s time to “give peace a chance.” Speaking to this directive, these proponents say that it’s “time to put down our arms, stop the whining and complaining and embrace” a beautiful architectural creation that promotes peace – in a city of peace. In retrospect, they argue that the Peace Bridge is more economical than 2 other pedestrian bridges recently constructed in Fort Edmonton and Winnipeg – respectively costing $34,000 and $50,000 per metre. Officially, the Peace Bridge finally came in at $30,000 per metre. All things considered, they support Calatrava’s aesthetic masterpiece because “for its symbolic importance as a measure of where our city is heading, for its functional utility and its aesthetic quality, it was money well spent.”

The Calgary Peace Bridge Is a Pathway For Pedestrians and Cyclists

It doesn’t take much to imagine the concept of a bridge as a monument devoted to the fallen victims of terrorism. An aesthetically beautiful bridge, arching across a creek in Washington D. C. – complete with a plaque of dedication – would be kind of nice actually. Don’t forget to participate in our poll below.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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