When Bronze Yields to Water and Salt, Remembrance Is a Form of Prayer

6 mins read

There are two types of sweat glands in our bodies: eccrine and apocrine.

The apocrine is found in select areas, notably our armpits, but I wanna talk about our eccrine glands. Those are all over our bodies, especially our hands and feet. 

The sweat from the eccrine glands in your hands — and other natural secretions — is what leaves behind fingerprints when you touch a surface.

However temporary, those fingerprints become a monument to our memory. We were there, they will tell anyone fluent in the contours that spiral into each other on our tips.

They will say that we were human, and we were there.

I wasn’t there. 

I didn’t know anyone who was killed, and I didn’t know anyone who knows anyone who was killed.

I was 14 and a high school freshman in Central Texas and over 1,700 miles away when it happened. 

For my family, New York City was a place known to us only on television. It might as well have been on another planet for all the personal connection we had to it.

We were sad, we were scared, but we weren’t personally affected like the grieving people we saw on television for weeks after that, tearfully pleading direct-to-camera, begging those of us watching to let them know if we had seen their loved one.

I will not pretend to understand how it must feel to grapple with personal tragedy inextricably linked to national tragedy, to be regularly reminded that the most vulnerable you have ever felt is somehow overshadowed by the most vulnerable the country has ever felt.

But I do know something about remembrance, which I strongly believe is a form of prayer. 

At the 9/11 Memorial in NYC, there are two pools in place of where the Towers once stood, and surrounding both are 152 bronze panels displaying the 2,983 names of those killed in the September 11 attacks and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

The names have been arranged with profound consideration. After the input of surviving families — about 1,200 such requests were received — designers used an algorithm to present meaningful connections in the proximity of names: folks who worked together, lived together, died together — they are now displayed together.

I say this to emphasize the blamelessness of what you see when you look closely: how some names, because of their positioning, most convenient to a visitor paying their respects and wishing for a tangible moment, have been touched hundreds of thousands of times. Maybe millions of times.

And because of that, certain names have the edges of their letters worn into a soft golden hue, the bronze yielding to the sweat of the fingertips of the countless people who simply want to remember and reflect, whereas other names, particularly those in the top row, aren’t nearly as worn, their letters still looking quite bronze around the edges.

It is difficult to stand there and not have a desire to ensure every name is touched and recognized, their letters acknowledged by the hands we were gifted for the very purpose of security and connection. 

On Panel S-66, you’ll find Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old EMT and police cadet who ran toward the Towers after the planes hit, seeking to help those in need. He was killed for his heroism and selflessness, and as a thanks, law enforcement agencies investigated whether he had a role in the attacks. Their reasoning? He was a Muslim.

On Panel S-18, you’ll see Father Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest and widely beloved chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He was a gay man and made clear his own views on homosexuality: “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?”

On Panel S-72, there’s U.S. Navy sailor Marsha D. Ratchford, an information technician who worked at the Pentagon. After the Twin Towers were hit, she called her husband to let him know and tell him she loved him. That was their last conversation.

Nearly 3,000 names cut into bronze, and as you pass each panel, the desire to touch every name — and let them know you, a stranger, are thinking about them — is overwhelming.

The word perspiration is derived from the Latin perspirare, which means “to breath through.”

Our fingers breathe with life, and in the small way that we can, we reach out with our hands to touch a name and remember a soul with loved and worn edges.

Originally published here in Charlotte’s Web Thoughts.

Photo courtesy of Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

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Charlotte Clymer is the Press Secretary for Rapid Response at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization. She also serves on the Military and Veterans Advisory Council for Modern Military Families of America, the Board of Directors for the Center for Military and Legal Policy, and the D.C. Commission for Persons with Disabilities. Her political commentary has been published and quoted by numerous outlets. She is a military veteran and proud transgender woman based in Washington, D.C.

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