Every generation has one moment in time – a moment or event that defines a turning point in their personal histories. For my grandparents, it was the Great Depression. For my parents, it was the Day of Infamy – December 7, 1941. Their lives revolved around the war efforts of WWII. They also added VE day and VJ day to their list.
My generation remembers where they were on November 22, 1963, when the news of President Kennedy’s assassination came across the newswires. We also had several other events – Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, and all the riots in cities all over our country in the years just before and after 1968.
For my children – and myself, too – the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and (almost) the Capitol (but now it is remembered in Shanksville PA) was a moment that changed us all and the way we live forever. Hmmmm, you might ask what has really changed. Well, now we have the Patriot Act and TSA. We have Homeland Security. This was all done to make us safer in our own country. I’m not going to debate the merits of these bureaucratic agencies – I have no intention on making this blog a political forum. But, while I was in New York, I made it a point to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Brace yourself….
|Plaza at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan|
When you get off the Number 4 subway at Fulton Street, you hear the crazy street bustle that is everyday New York. You can get run over on the sidewalks by pedestrians as you walk along Broadway. Everyone is in such a hurry! But near the Twin Towers site and things slow down and get really quiet. It’s a noticeable quiet – almost somber – as you walk past the locations of the World Trade Center.
|Waterfall memorial at the North Tower site|
The memorial portion is free and open to the public. Here you will find many places to sit and reflect on what happened at this site in 2001. The remains of the buildings themselves are different. Each tower footprint is now an unending waterfall, with the water disappearing into the blackness of the foundation center. Names of those who perished are engraved in granite around each waterfall. The world is so quiet in that space, that you can almost hear their tears and screams.
|Waterfall memorial at the South Tower site|
The museum portion, however, is a pay-to-get-in venue. The museum was built surrounding a lot of the destruction. Some was cleared away, yet some remained because it couldn’t be moved. You begin your museum tour walking in a long hallway, listening to survivors talk about what they saw and heard that day. From an open balcony at the end of the hallway, you can see the footprint of part of the garage and underground offices. You can still see mangled girders. Then you go down into the underground area.
|Front of the 9/11 Memorial Museum|
|Skeleton of a building|
|Girders with visible damage|
On display, first, are messages from visitors mounted on the wall. It reminded me of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Here, just like in the Holy Land, people flocked to remember and pray at one of the remaining foundation walls of the Twin Towers. Tacked to the surface are prayers, remembrances and wishes from all over – along with the words “never forget”. I felt like I was making an American pilgrimage to this site. My heart began to feel heavy.
|Underground at the Twin Towers...|
|...with some girders anchored back in place...|
|... and twisted out of shape.|
I walked past many tributes on display. One of the most impressive ones is the quilt. It has portions for all three 9/11 sites and pictures of everyone who lost their lives that day. From motorcycles to drawings, victims were remembered in very personal ways. Toward the South Tower footprint, you see pictures of the recovery work done at the site. And you see empty foundation blocks and mangled girders and rebar.
|A portion of the memorial quilt with pictures|
|Remembering the recover efforts|
There is a moving section of this portion of the museum called the Memorial Room. In one location, in low light, in quiet, you see the face of every person who died at the three sites that day. There is an electronic database you can use to look up specific people, and find out about their lives and loves. The room resembles a columbarium with over 3000 pictures from floor to ceiling on inner and outer walls. No one was left behind here.
|Ladder 3 truck - FDNY|
|Close up of the damage done|
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial is one of the most profound things I’ve ever done. It is not a place I want to return to anytime soon, however. I was not prepared for the rush of emotions I experienced at the site. I should have prepared myself better for what I saw. My spirit is still raw from the tragedy and I hurt all over after visiting the site.
|Freedom Tower now occupies the site of World Trade 7|
Many say it’s the same emotional preparation you need when visiting the Holocaust Museum in DC. This is a holocaust that I witnessed first hand and I will always remember. I must commend New York, too, on the memorial. It is a quiet tribute to all who lost their lives – very tasteful and simple.
|Parts of the Freedom Tower are still under construction|
The Memorial website, http://www.911memorial.org, is a great place to begin your preparation. Click through the site, which includes a map of the museum, lesson plans for teachers, and webcasts. Tickets can be purchased online and picked up or printed out at home.
When in New York, try to visit the 9/11 Memorial. But be prepared… and never forget.
|New York night skyline - now - Freedom Tower visible from Battery Park|