I suspect you are all Poped out right now. But…
I thought if I went into the city Friday my chances of getting a good Pope photo were nil. I had no tickets to Central Park or Madison Sq.Garden or any event.
But then I thought back to a day long gone when I was on the beach waiting for what looked like a great sunset in the offing. It wasn’t. The Western sky which showed so much promise became a humble dimming. But then I turned around and saw what the rays had done to the clouds behind me in the East. They were a pink panorama of splendor. I was 180 degrees off in where to look. I was astonished. But more importantly I learned to sometime look another way, any other way, sometimes the least intuitive way. And I also learned that often, what I seek comes from where I’d least expect it.
I went to the area of the World Trade Center where the Pope was scheduled to be at 11:30. I lined up on a nearby street where thousands of others had gathered. I was there about 10:30 a.m. A young fellow photog stood near me and we exchanged some tech info on cameras. I also told him I actually came more to see the crowd, the faces, the hope in them. He said, “I came to see the Pope.”
The weather was September-sublime, as was that fateful eleventh post-summer day that made these grounds holy. September crystal-clear days sometimes take me back to that terror. Terror isn’t supposed to happen on days like that. It seemed like a break in trust, like the trust that ghosts aren’t supposed to be under your bed or goblins in your closet in the brightness of daylight.
But this day was not of terror but of the terrific. The throngs peered at the lines of police in the street and waited for the coming of that Fiat of eloquent humility or the pearl Popemobile. The energy of the crowd was one huge circuit of electricity. But there was a lightness to it too. A joining of eager delight.
Each time a group of motorcycles or limos passed by there would be a whoop of anticipation. But each time there was…no Pope. After one such jubilation the boy atop nearby shoulders said, “False alarm,” and won laughter and applause. Smiles were as shiny as the day.
As it grew near 11:30 a woman on a phone nearby said a friend of hers at the Pope’s previous locale, the U.N., said he was still busy speaking with VIPs and didn’t even leave yet.
The throng was disappointed yet not dismayed. For me, it just gave me more time to focus with camera and mind on each of them. I felt I was seeing, experiencing, the presence of the Pope in them. They were infused with his being, they’d heard him speak on TV, they read what he said.
Many of them would have been here if another man was chosen on that smokey day in Rome. But many too only came because He was chosen. He was a Pope of the people, the poor, the sick, the alone, the helpless. And so many of them or their families were of that flock.
He was hope to them. A hope that his words might awaken minds in our troubled world. Minds so caught up with power, greed and narcissism that they thought it was the only way to live. This throng knew no laws were ever going to change anything until those minds would begin to change. This Pope was that hope. They could feel it. And I could feel it in them.
The lady next to me said, “Look, a rainbow!” I looked but didn’t see a rainbow. She said, “Right there!” pointing. I still didn’t see it. She said, “It’s gone now.” I said, “If I didn’t see it does that mean I’m the only one not going to heaven?” They all laughed at that.
So many eyes scanning the skies and then hands raised up like waves of wheat. But in a different direction, between two towers.
This time I did make out a splash of spectral color. It was just a patch, not the familiar rainbow lines but it was color. With my 300mm lens I was able to capture it.
We heard the sad words: The Pope was already in the WTC. And he wasn’t coming out till 3:30. He had entered via a different route. I was tired, hungry, my feet hurt and had to go to the bathroom. That’s right, I don’t have the incredible stamina of that seventy-eight-year-old Pontiff. Guess I’ll never be Pope. I had to bail out.
Besides, I got what I came for. I saw what Pope Francis brought to NYC and America. I saw the coming together of so many hues of humankind, the anticipation in the gathered masses, the light in the faces, the joy…the hope.
A friend’s niece, Laura Shadaould, took these photos later at Central Park. Yes, there was a rainbow there as well.
Regarding the rainbows: There are phenomena called “fire rainbows” that are neither fire nor rainbows. They are actually circumhorizontal arcs, ice halos that are so large that the arc seems to parallel the horizon, hence the name. It is the sun reflecting off ice crystals in cirrus clouds.
They are rare, and often people see only parts of the huge arc so it appears to be a singular, local event. For this phenomena to occur over the World Trade Center, while the Pope was inside and later that day at Central Park, while he was there again, was just a coincidence. It had nothing to do with the hope, the light, in those faces, in those eyes, in those voices…in me. Right?