Somewhere on top of the hill at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, there is a beautiful place dedicated as the Thomas E. Burnett, Jr. Heroes Garden, commemorating the fallen men and women of September 11, 2001.
It is not a very big place. It starts with a modest water fountain feeding into a narrow channel that ends in a small pool overlooking the beautiful rolling vista of the university campus all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Along the Channel, the structure combines colorful slabs of stone, short and unevenly set mason-work walls and boulders, native shrubberies, flowers and trees. The structure is comprise of chambers separated by the stone walls, all lead to the pool.
The garden is lovely, but I want to highlight the gentle call of this place to pay attention, not only to its beauty, but also to the inscriptions and messages on its walls and boulders and to the surroundings as a whole.
The narrow channel of green, brown and gold stones is short and shallow. It’s like an arrow pointing directly to the promising prize at its end – the infinity pool.
When I arrived, I wanted to get to the pool quickly and take in the beauty. I skipped up the few steps, and followed the channel, but my way was blocked by a wall. I had to slow down, turn away from the prize, cross the channel, and face the inscriptions. At this position, the writing penetrates the consciousness and you read. Then I moved forward, and the sequence repeated a few more times as I passed from one chamber to another.
By the time I reached the pool and the stunning vista, I was moving slowly, marveling at the calmly cascading water, the campus colors, the ocean, Santa Monica mountain range and the clear, blue California sky; while my mind was contemplating all the inscriptions I just read, the people who built the place, and the people who we should remember.
And there was one more thing on my mind. I felt a special connection to this simple channel of water that was constantly in my way, calling to me: may I have your attention please. Without it, I would not have slowed down to observe all that was there to observe. What a poignant way to call for attention, without uttering a word. I wish I could be as subtle when I ask for people’s attention. I wish that all those who call for my attention would do it in the same manner.