How to Remember 9/11 [UPDATED]

August 31, 2011 at 10:30 pm (By Amba) (, )

I was determined not to—once was enough—and then I was walking past the IFC Film Center this afternoon and . . .

Impulse-bought a ticket to see “Rebirth.”  What did it was probably my oblique personal connection to the late FDNY Capt. Terry Hatton, whose friend is one of those interviewed. His wife was Mayor Giuliani’s personal assistant Beth Petrone; her brother was the publicist we’d hired because I had an article about J’s slow recovery from trauma coming out in Oprah’s magazine.  Curiously, it was called “Journey to Healing,” and it appeared 9/10/2001.

Small, silver lining: Hatton and Petrone had been trying to conceive; afterwards, she discovered she had, and daughter Terri was born the following year.

The movie is very, very good and very moving in the parallels it finds between the rebuilding of bodies, lives, and buildings — in all cases a halting, back-and-forth process, more complex than you might expect. The people whose lives were followed through the years from 2001 to 2009 were amazingly brave about revealing their emotions. This was sort of the premiere and the filmmakers were there to answer questions, as well as two of the principals. After the film I felt absolutely compelled to stay and talk to Terry Hatton’s friend, Tim Brown, which was absurd because my connection to the family was so tenuous, but they were “my” 9/11 family nonetheless. Terri Hatton is “doing great” and still has on her wall cut-out heads of Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake — and Tim Brown! The film will be at IFC film center down the block from me for some weeks, and in other theaters around the country, and will air on Showtime on 9/11. Try to see it on the big screen, because the panoramic time-lapse photography of the site is breathtaking, and the intimacy of the close-ups is enlarged.

There’s also a marvelous middle-aged Chinese-American woman in the film, Ling, who was very badly burned and went through 40 surgeries trying to regain freedom of movement constricted by terrible keloid scarring. In spite of everything, she is FUNNY. She was there and I got to tell her she was my hero because she was funny. And I got to point out to her that when she got up her “reserved” sign was stuck to the seat of her pants, which was very much in her spirit.

This is the way to remember 9/11 — not static but dynamic.

UPDATE:  The most spiritual person in this movie is a construction supervisor.  He does not utter a Christian piety, nor is there even a hint of new-age Candide, “all’s for the best in this best of all possible universes.” Rather, expressed in completely new words which he gropes for and finds onscreen, it’s his direct response to the site, which he instinctively senses is sacred, and from the moment his firefighter brother dies there, Brian is possessed and driven by the imperative to rebuild it, right through and out the other side of the PTSD that blindsides him a couple of years after the event. It’s the first time you’ll ever think of a construction worker as an agent of resurrection.

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