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  • Maegan Prentice

How a Russian Gift in Memory of the Victims of 9/11 Was Received by the American Public

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

The Tear of Grief - a 10–story sculpture by Zurab Tsereteli that was given to the United States as an official gift from the Russian government as a memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks in 2001
The Tear of Grief

When I read about the Tear of Grief the name touched me. After 911 the whole world mourned the loss of lives and the loss of the hope and stability that is associated with the United States of America. The US was no longer invulnerable and thus the whole world had become more vulnerable. These loses were mourned in every corner of the world.

But here we were never encouraged to enter the realm of grief. As a country we stayed in a state of rage and indignation. While the rest of the world mourned a strange numbness overtook this country, a dazed disbelief that bordered on delusion. "We didn't do anything to deserve this." "This attack was senseless." What I’m remembering is the numb mindless response. We were told, loudly, that this was an act of jealousy.

Five years later a monument was being brought to this country that symbolized the grief that the world felt. But it was received as if it were a political gift, an attempt at aggrandizement of Russian leadership.

I’ve spent time in Russia, have friends there, and quite honestly I don’t like being there. The thing that made my weeks there tolerable was a certain aspect of the Russian spirit. Russians are not afraid to grieve and grumble at the quality of their lives. They don’t always express it politically but they show it as they walk down the street avoiding eye contact with strangers. They show it in a protective shell which seems to exude a feeling of certainty that they will be disappointed even betrayed, by the stranger. The lack of trust is palpable. To some, myself included, it was a stifling environment, but it was sincere. 911 was little more than a year after that journey, hardly time for a major shift in the general personality of the people. A tear of grief seems a real and honest response of such people to the sights and sounds they saw on their TVs.

But the people of the US were not able to see the grief in the hearts of Russians or French or any other peoples. We were trying to deal with a death, a grief, that we could not process in the flickering images of their TV screens. There was no time, no opportunity, to go through the stages of grief because we were being constantly attacked. The attack did not end on 911. We replayed and replayed and replayed the horror without any chance of moving forward. So when the gift began to take form some welcomed it in the spirit of the very gift itself, a shared grief. But many others, for various reasons from deep political angst to simple NIMBY, wanted to reject the gift. Their grief could only be understood by making it about the assumption that this attack was done to us for no reason.

The result was that the "Tear" could only be brought here by renaming it with a new title that sounds more like a toast in a bar.

Raise your glass “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism”.

No tears, no healing. The words in no way express the softness and healing of tears. Without the original name the sculpture is just a suspended metal ball in a cracked brick wall.

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