This tribute has nothing, really to do with us. It’s just that as I was preparing this section, Josh’s sister Rosa sent me a link (via Facebook) to a huge memorial in the Sahara desert. So while it is not necessarily to do with the death of a child, or a parent’s grief (though I’m sure someone’s son or daughter would have been on board), and there definitely is no personal connection, I couldn’t resist including what has to be one of the mostly seeringly beautiful creative responses to tragedy in current times.
This is a screen shot of Google Earth. For real. It’s not a piece of clever photoshop. Type in 16°51’53″N, 11°57’13″E to Google Earth and see for yourself. And the story behind this huge piece of “global art” is an amazing testament to the human capacity to create beauty from the most horrendous circumstance.
It’s a 200 ft wide ‘sculpture’, ‘constructed land form’, ‘monument’, called it what you will, but it can only truly be appreciated from high in the air. It takes the form of an airplane in a compass; it sits in a total wasteland hundreds of miles from any habitation and yet it’s purpose is to be observed, its purpose is to honour and remember the dead.
On Tuesday, September 19th, 1989, six Libyans whose main motive was said to be revenge on the French government for supporting Chad in a border dispute with Libya ignited a suitcase bomb on a DC-10 on its way to Paris from Brazzaville. The plane crashed in the middle of the Sahara desert. All 170 passengers and crew died. The victims came from 18 different countries but it wasn’t until 2007, that family members gathered at the site to build the memorial. Despite being one of the most inaccessible places on planet, dark stone was carried more than 70 miles across the desert for the memorial which took two months to build. To represent each of the crash victims, 170 broken mirrors were laid along the circumference of the memorial. The names of all 170 who died are printed onto the starboard wing of the aircraft which has been erected in the sand at the north point of the compass.
What is so powerful about this tribute is that the memory of all those killed has been etched into the everchanging landscape of the desert at the location where few will actually see it. In a way, despite its rock-solidness, the memorial now exists itself only as a memory, as a trace in the sand. The image on Google Earth will have been made soon after completion as contemporary photos show that it is now mostly covered over by the shifting sands. But it is that image that has gone viral and there is something in the disappearance of the actual now elevated to a collective memory via the internet that seems to resonate with the passage of life into death, leaving as it does, ripples of interconnecting stories that will continue much longer than any previous histories.