We drove north. Miraculously, we were able to get access to our car out of our garage before it was shut down for a week because of a gas leak. We could still smell the acrid smoke even near the George Washington Bridge at the north end of Manhattan. We drove to Oneonta NY, after dropping off a kind neighbor and her dog on our way. She was a complete stranger before 9/11. She and her husband had welcomed us in their home on the evening of 9/11, rather than sleeping in my studio (ill equipped for a family of five), located a half mile north in TriBeCa. Watching the smoke rise from now another fallen building, Number Seven, it occurred to me that finishing a series of lithographs at Corridor Press had now become a welcome goal. Driving around 3 AM on interstate 81, thousands of stars lit up the sky, and the American flags everywhere echoed those stars.
The desolate highways brought back in my mind the ghost town of TriBeCa that morning filled with the odor of death. Occasionally, I would still hear in my head the sirens shrieking in the bitter night. I heard in my mind my own inept, feeble prayers uttered during my subway ride, trying to rush home. I did not even know that literal hell was breaking forth above me, being trapped in the subway for the 40 minutes that changed the world. All I could see, finally having come out on Seventh Avenue at 14th Street, was the smoke of the fallen towers. I brushed against hundreds of evacuating businessmen and women as I ran toward my home, my studio. I saw again the blood drained face of my wife who met me at the studio, and experienced again the relief of hearing that all my three children were evacuated safely.
At Corridor Press, master printer Tim Sheesley and I had been working on a series of lithographs on a medieval pear tree, Quince, that I had sketched at The Cloisters. I exhibited one as part of a triptych at St. John the Divine's celebration of their millennium Christmas. And the next morning, I walked across to the printing studio, noting the quiet of the turning leaves, and I saw, for the first time the printed images on thin Japanese paper (see "Shalom").
I had painted this as a test plate to get used to working on limestone again. Tim thought even the trial piece was successful enough to print. As I pondered this very simple image of a tree, printed with silver ink, the work began to speak back to me. It was like a small seed, bursting out in a joyous mess in my mind, and you could almost hear it growing.
I told my friends later that I heard the voice of Christ through the image. A voice of Shalom. I did not intend the piece to even exist. But sometimes, things are better left outside of our intentions. Perhaps, like Mary's nard, expression allowed to spill out, the peripheral expressions, the Lord speaks through. That voice, like water, spoke against the voice of fear within. The voice of fear spoke mercilessly still -- "What about the children, now?" "What about our loft? Do you think it would be left standing?" "Do we dare move back in to New York City?" But as I pondered that simple print, the whisper of shalom became more real than even the tree itself.
I wrote in an e-mail then to my friends:
"Create we must, and respond to this dark hour. The world needs artists who dedicate themselves to communicate the images of Shalom. Jesus is the Shalom. Shalom is not just the absence of war, but wholeness, healing and joy of fullness of Humanity. We need to collaborate within our communities, to respond individually to give to the world our Shalom vision."