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Hope endures

When Allen Fields, executive director of the Minnesota Ballet, drove across the Washington Bridge into New York City five days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, he was stunned.

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When Allen Fields, executive director of the Minnesota Ballet, drove across the Washington Bridge into New York City five days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, he was stunned.
He and his passenger, Sallie Wilson, had just driven in from Duluth, where Wilson had been working with the ballet corps to stage Agnes De Mille's ballet, which opens here Oct. 19.
Fields and Wilson knew about the terrorist attack and had watched the coverage on Sept. 11 in the ballet's studio in Duluth, but they weren't prepared for their reaction when they actually saw the empty spaces left by the collapsed towers.
"When we had that first sight of it, we both gasped and started crying," he said. "It was broad daylight, and with the smoke, it looked like somebody had dropped a bomb on that end of Manhattan."
That first glimpse of New York was just the start of an odyssey of grief and remembrance that Fields captured on film while he was there. He said he's always been interested in photography and took his camera, loaded with black and white film, to document what he saw while he was in New York.
It was an extraordinary experience, he said.
New Yorkers are usually a wildly varied bunch. On any typical day, one encounters angry people or happy people, irritable people or those in a rush. After the tragedy, everyone was in shock, he said. "It was like how you'd imagine living in Paris or London during World War II -- you were on edge because you didn't know what was going to happen next."
New Yorkers also seemed to share the same mood.
"It was like the whole city had been injected with a sedative," he said.
The second day he was in New York, he accompanied choreographer Ginger Thatcher to her dance studio where she had a class to teach and then Fields wandered off by himself.
For some reason, he was attracted to revisit Union Square, camera in hand. The powerful experience led him to share the images he took that day.
There were hundreds of memorials in the square, he said, with photographs, posters and flowers heaped on the edge of sidewalks, tacked to trees and hung in long lines on gates and fences. People moved among them quietly -- many crying, others murmuring to each other. Some said nothing at all but just stared mutely at what was displayed.
"It was like a living memorial or a church of some sort," he said. "Everywhere around that space, there were private memorials for their loved ones, for the sake of their country. There were thousands and thousands of candles. I never saw so much melted wax in my life. It ran like melted tears all over the concrete."
Fields was drawn to photograph posters by children, men draped in flags and the memorials that tugged at the heart. He captured a homeless woman, stopping to rearrange her shopping cart as she went through the tragic scene, and a Boston fireman, bowed before a section of the square heaped with flowers below photographs of firemen who were missing.
Some people added words of comfort to their memorials: "As Gloria Gaynor says, 'I will survive,'" read one large poster draped with the American flag. Another included a quote from Martin Luther King: "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
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"People went there and presented these beautiful, sad things," Fields said. "And people of Islamic beliefs were giving away red and white ribbons."
One fellow was standing on a soap box yelling about racism in America. Fields said his first reaction was to tell him to shut up, but then he realized this was the essence of America, too -- the freedom to speak your own mind.
At one point, he sat down on a bench next to an African American woman. They didn't talk or even acknowledge each other, but Fields said they sat almost touching, communicating in an essential way.
The woman started humming, deep in her body. Fields, who grew up in the south, recognized the old southern spiritual as it built within her -- "There ain't gonna be no war no more, there ain't gonna be no war."
"Then she started singing the song," Fields said, "and my tears started to roll."
When she was finished, Fields thanked her, and she said, "Oh, could you hear me?"
Then she turned to him and told him that she was a preacher in New York.
"You know, it's funny," she said. "God told me to come down here, that there was going to be somebody crying on my shoulder."
Fields, who had tears in his eyes when he told this story, added, "and oddly enough, it was me."

Joan Farnam is the Budgeteer community page editor and can be reached at joan.farnam@duluth.com or 723-1207.

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