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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, October 2001

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

No sooner had we gone to press—on September 11, 2001—when we witnessed a calamity of unspeakable horror and cruelty.

By now we have all processed the kaleidoscope of images—the plane hurtling headlong into the tower…people leaping to their deaths…the collapses, 30 minutes apart, of two icons of the Manhattan skyline…the roaring shroud of smoke and soot and ash and concrete and glass and wiring and plumbing…the mad rush of escapees up Broadway…the blizzard of faxes and memos over lower Manhattan…the smoldering wreck of the Pentagon…the wall of prayers…the smiling faces of the victims looking out from family photos…the candles…the flags… We process, at least, the images as we struggle to grasp the spirit and horror behind them. During that extraordinary week, we tried in vain to remember the ordinary—our day-to-day tasks that comprise a job or a career or a livelihood. Thousands of victims of a fathomless hatred suddenly made what we do seem small and even irrelevant.

But art is a great palliative—it elegizes and energizes, just as it enlightens and entertains. We remember and honor the dead and channel our grief in astonishing ways. We summon up our greatest gifts and deliver something that crystallizes the skein of human emotions that cataclysmic events can stir. For documentary makers, the raw material is out there—in the rubble, in the sky, on the streets, anywhere—to shape into something that may dare to speak for the unspeakable.

When we at the magazine plan our monthly issues, we plan for timeliness—of topic, of airdates, of theatrical release—from several months away, oblivious, as we all are, to future shock. We were to feature a documentary that may seem, on the surface, to be of questionable appropriateness at this time; we have, thus, tabled that feature to a later issue. And we apologize if this issue arrives at your doorsteps late.

Gregory Orr, whose piece on appears in this issue, e-mailed daily dispatches from “Ground Zero” in New York. He closed one of those dispatches with a quote from Aeschylus that he saw on a handwritten note in a shop window in SoHo. This quote graces Robert F. Kennedy’s grave: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair…comes wisdom.”

As we continue to reflect on the Before and After, may we remember especially the images and the people from that crushing week—and the stories behind them.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White