2001-09-29 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio by Susan Hartenstein

In years to come, children will ask their parents, "Were you there?" Thousands will answer, "Yes." Many of those will add, "And so were you. I held you in my arms while we listened and wept and prayed." The pages of this newspaper will be filled with the details of the extraordinary ceremony of mourning and tribute, "Rockaway Reaching Out." It is, therefore, unnecessary for me to do so. Instead, I wish to write of the artists who came; of those who gave flight and pulse and image to the pain and prayers of those gathered.

The children--oh, the children.

Ascending like a lark, the voices of the Camp kidsmART kids and those of the choir of BethEl Temple Church of God in Christ sang a song of love and hope and unity. Led by NaRon Tillman, composer of the song and a music instructor at the camp, their sweet, whole-hearted directness proved the truth of the lyrics. And we, standing there, believed that a better world was possible. NaRon, also a minister of this church, entreated all to extend to each other the love that the police, EMT’s and firefighters had shown to their fellow man and woman, sacrificing their own lives for others.

Striking chords of recognition in all who were there, Apryl Green, Ken Coughlin and Kevin Sweeney sang songs about our deep-seated love of country and our hope in the future. Rockaway native Gerald Bair performed "This Changed Everything," a song he wrote about this tragedy – of the horrors of it, of the bonds formed between us in response and of a nation’s resolve. Indeed, a Relief/ Memorial fund has been established by the Rockaway Partnership, a charitable organization of the Chamber of Commerce of the Rockaways, which manufactured a limited supply of "candlelight vigil edition" CD singles of this song. They are available for a minimum donation with proceeds going to benefit the fund.

Sean Coveney, a member of RAA, brought a painting of the waving American flag. Through the magic of paint and talent, Sean had expressed both the strength and compassion that the flag symbolizes for so many. Coveney says he felt many things after the tragedy. So much was bursting out of him in all directions – rage, sorrow and more. The best way he had to express them was through a painting. This was his catharsis. He told me of a principle of metaphysics – For every need there is a resource, for every resource there is a need. Coveney is not sure yet where this painting will find its home, but he believes it will rest in a place where it is needed.

Hanging behind the crowd was the mural "Rockaway Reaching Out." Geoff Rawling, president of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, had painted across a long canvas, the wounded Manhattan skyline. All were invited to dip their hands in paint and leave their prints on the canvas as symbols of the unity of this community and of the community of humankind.

All over this city, nation and world artists struggle to give eloquence to thoughts and emotions felt by so many. It is the artist who gives voice and color and sound and shape to what is inside us. It is the artist who gives expression to the inexpressible, image to the unimaginable and flight to the flutter in our hearts. The artist makes music out of noise and poetry out of words. The artist puts the work in front of us so we may say, "Yes, that is it. That is what I wanted to say but could not." It is the artist who ultimately exposes the commonalities of the human spirit that we all share.

That night, in the silence of the moment, we traditionally reserve to commemorate, I heard one clear sound in that dark and heavy air, breaking the void. It was the sound of a mother deeply, loudly, all-consuming, kissing the child resting in her arms.

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