Wisdom blows in on whirlwind


NEW YORK -- The whirlwind hit New York again Sept. 11, just as it did a year ago.

On Wednesday, the winds reached 60 miles an hour. Trees fell. Wires collapsed. Construction supplies were blown from rooftops.

Wednesday's winds came down from the skies, the heavens. A year ago Sept. 11, they came from the hell that Lower Manhattan turned into that day.

The turbulence of heat and vacuum and momentum and combustion from the World Trade Center generated a micro-climate of dust from incinerated bodies and metal and paper and plastic and dreams -- all whipped about by winds that started in the morning and howled all night and that, in some minds, have not stopped to this day.

Long ago, a voice appeared from another whirlwind, one in which God asked Job, "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me."

Job was put to the test and suffered and, in the end, died humbly and wisely, a 140-year-old with beautiful daughters and an immense inheritance for the generations that survived him.

For a year now, New York has suffered. But New York is also gaining in wisdom, helped by its brashness and stubbornness and willfulness and great sense of fun and destiny.

I attended 2 1/2 hours of short plays and vignettes written especially for the first anniversary of 9/11 by such playwrights as Neil LaBute and John Guare and Christopher Durang and acted by people like Bebe Neuwirth and John Turturro and Chita Rivera and Eli Wallach.

And you know what? There were wisecracks ("I live a mile north of Ground Zero. That must be Ground One."), and there were fantastic images that no one ever thought of before (like actors portraying cars sitting in a parking lot on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, waiting on 9/11/01 for their commuter owners to return from work in Lower Manhattan). And there were tears, most notably from the woman sitting in front of me, who went through several reams of Kleenex.

Mostly, there was a wisdom, a wisdom that had come out of a whirlwind. A wisdom that said that everything is somber -- and light -- at the same time.

That dread sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from joy and that each refract and endow the other. That time has its purpose and, while the long months since the first Sept. 11 have not healed us, they have certainly helped soothe us.

There was exaltation to those plays. They were also almost a sacrament and, if so, a very happy one.

To get to New York, I drove north in the morning on Interstate 95 underneath bridges bearing American flags and alongside construction sites with homemade signs: "United We Stand," "Semper Fi," and all the rest.

At night, I drove south along the same highway. A year ago Sept. 11, both day and night would have been the dark night of our soul. On this Sept. 11, even the nighttime drive revealed the keen light of our spirit. From out of the whirlwind, we heard a voice, and we are responding fitfully, yet wisely.

Arthur J. Magida is the writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore.

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