In the last few years, I’ve commemorated 9/11 by heading to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, to see the Waves of Flags. Launched in 2008 by student and actor Ryan Sawtelle, then president of the College Republicans, the display features one full-size flag for the roughly 3,000 people who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (originally all American flags, but now there are international flags sprinkled in for non-Americans who also died).
Covering a sweeping sloped lawn at the intersection of a canyon road and Pacific Coast Highway, whipped by the winds from the nearby ocean, the flags are a startling, melancholy and yet exhilarating reminder of the human cost of terrorist hate.
I’ll get to the Waves before the display is taken down, but this year I did something different. A friend and I headed out early to Costa Mesa, California, attend a networking breakfast sponsored by the Orange County chapter of Catholics@Work.
One of the speakers was New Jersey-born sculptor Jon Krawczyk, who now lives not far from Pepperdine in the Malibu hills. A few years ago, he was commissioned to create an artistic replacement for the famed “9/11 Cross,” a remnant of World Trade Center structural steel in the shape of a cross, found in the rubble at Ground Zero.
Despite a legal challenge by a group of atheists, a court ruled in July that the original 9/11 Cross can remain at the 9/11 Museum, where it now resides.
Until the summer of 2011, it was kept at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in lower Manhattan, which was itself damaged in the attacks by parts from one of the hijacked aircraft that slammed into the World Trade Center.
Krawczyk’s polished, stainless-steel creation is also in the shape of a cross but also echoes a human form. It’s wavy and reflective, he described, so that people looking into it would not just see their own images but those of the people and world around them. It’s also hollow and contains thousands of notes and artifacts from people who shared stories of hope and loss on the journey, which began when the artist’s little daughter asked if she might put some flowers inside it.
Finally, the sculpture was sealed with a chunk of unpolished steel from one of the Towers, which, as Krawczyk described, will one day rust and send red streaks down the steel, like “a wound that doesn’t heal.”
At the base of the sculpture is a book with metal leaves, on which are inscribed the names of all the 9/11 victims–a sample of which he brought to the breakfast. Krawczyk has also made pendants of his sculpture, to sell to defray costs and to raise money for charity. He hasn’t quite figured out how to market them, but he’s working on it.
Click here for a lengthy story from 2011 about Krawczyk, the sculpture and his 5,000-mile journey to drive the sculpture to New York (an upcoming documentary was also shot), but something in particular struck me of what the artist said this morning.
Even though he attended a Catholic boys’ school, Krawczyk says he’s from a Christian background, but “not particularly religious,” and more “spiritual.” But, as he talked to people taking his work to New York, he began to take upon himself the weight of their grief, their sadness, the gaping holes left in their lives by the horrific attacks and the lives lost.
As he spoke, Krawczyk became emotional. He explained that he hadn’t ever been an emotional person, but during his cross-country drive, he began to have weepy moments every day.
The Catholics at the breakfast prayed over Krawczyk, who was genuinely moved. There’s no saying where his spiritual journey will lead him in the future, but it was a rare opportunity to see a man who, literally and figuratively, carried his cross–and the crosses of others–on a pilgrimage to a place that is still a wound in the heart of America.
Below find a full-size picture of the sculpture, which doesn’t appear to have any name other than “9/11 Cross” (photo courtesy of Krawczyk).