It is rare for a memorial to be perfectly calibrated to the nature of the tragedy it marks. The elegant Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the British World War I cemeteries is a notable example. The Tribute in Light, which recently rose again on the anniversary of 9/11, is another.
Memorials usually play on our quest for the eternal, offering consolation for those lost with the stolid stone suggestion of permanence and eternity. The genius of the Tribute is its embrace of time, loss and the ephemeral nature of all things. At a glance, we accept the paradoxical metaphor of a thing that appears without material form for a couple of days only, but which will exist for eternity, its photons winging their way forever to the farthest reaches of the cosmos. The metaphor continues with the convergence of the parallel beams in a singular burst of brightness.
Given my audience, I feel compelled to point out that the Tribute runs under the supervision of Audubon, which ensures the lights are switched off every 20 minutes to release the birds trapped in its beams, and is powered by biodiesel cooking oil collected from local restaurants.