The Fall of Everything

Image by Steve Gooch/AP, printed at The New Yorker

The sustained gaze of glory is heavy. It is a look which finds its way into every hidden shortcoming. But the sustained gaze of destruction is equally undoing, if not more so. How would we know for certain? The integrity of most human glory is 90-proof at best, while the turmoil of tragic grief is numbing in its daily, falling interlude.

Always, the sadness is in the falling. This week, schools and homes fell in Oklahoma City. In Boston, runners and observers fell. In Denver, moviegoers fell. In Benghazi, a mission fell, and men: sons, husbands, fathers, friends. In New York City, twin towers fell. Whether storms, bombs, bullets, planes, or ideologies: the exalted brings down and leaves the fallen in its wake.

There are no tragedies that raise up, save one: the tragedy of human arrogance. All others bring low: level, collapse, crumble, crush, ruin, and fall. Always, it is the fall.

The Challenger fell. Missiles fell, on Bagdad. Bombs fell on Hiroshima. Ozymandias fell. Cesar fell, and Rome followed. Because civilizations fall too. The Phoenix falls, to ash. The stock market falls. Leaves fall. Rain falls. Hours grow late, but day dies in the west with nightfall. Music falls, quiet. Sometimes bad things fall too, like the Third Reich and the Berlin Wall. Once, theological braggarts always about the art of ontological reductionism asked Jesus about people who fell. Jesus in turn talked about a fallen tower.

But tragic things never rise up. The panorama of a vacant horizon jagged with broken rubble, the universal truth of disaster, is the ruin it leaves behind. Just look at the pictures of Tripoli or the displaced people of Oklahoma City. Someone wiser than we moderns called the unceremonious decline of humanity to moral ineptitude “the Fall.” Nobody ever called it “The Rise of Adam,” or “Humanities ascent to knowledge.” Just, The Fall.

At the new 9/11 memorial in Manhattan, a powerful unsettling fills the space. Contrasted with the heavy, open silence of the Pearl Harbor memorial and the long, dark stretch of the Vietnam War memorial, and the harrowing cuttings of men in the Korean War Memorial; the 9/11 memorial is filled with sound. The constant sound of falling water, falling and falling into the empty footprint of the towers. From there, it falls into an even smaller footprint, the vanishing-point of artwork that is hidden to watching eyes.

The falling is more than water: it is the falling of planes, of glass, steel, cement, and humanity. The sound is more than water: it is the cry of anxious lives begging for salvation, of engine afterburners, of fatherless and motherless children born into a post 9/11 world. Here, the falling never stops. Here, the noises never cease. Though the city sleep, the water never does. Darkness covers light, light darkness. But nothing stops the sound of falling.

Nothing rises up against the fall: nothing with permanence. Bridges rust. Monuments decay. Names are forgotten. Foundations expire. Records are shattered. Mountains crumble. Statues weather. Flags fade. Humanity raises them up but, always, they come back down. We seem preoccupied with what was raised and, even more, with what has fallen. Nothing rises up against the fall with permanence, save one: Resurrection.

That’s why Jesus had to be raised up. It was not enough for him to be lifted, to ascend, or be caught up. Yes, all of these things happened, but one we celebrate: that he was raised up! He couldn’t just be saved or found or renewed. Old things are renewed. Lost things are found. Valuable things are saved. But only what has fallen can be raised up again. And in a world where everything is falling, he was.

Towers will fall, but he was raised up.
Reputations will fall, but he was raised up.
Nations will fall, but he was raised up.
Dreams will fall, but he was raised up.
Tears will fall, but he was raised up.
Friends, parents, even—God NO!—children will fall, but he was raised up.

When the sustained gaze of destruction forces the most steady eyes to close, he was still raised.
So we await the Resurrection of Life, and all that has ever fallen down.

Joel Hathaway

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