New York 9/11 memorial reminds us, helps heal us
There are few phrases in the American lexicon as recognizable as “ 9/11.” The simple designation of a date and place in time evokes an entire kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions. Thus it was with mixed feelings of remembered dread and curious anticipation that I approached the memorial complex that sits on the foundations of the former north and south towers of the World Trade Center.
I had already visited St. Paul’s Church nearby and viewed the many reminders of the emergency services personnel who had headquartered there during the recovery operation.
Within the church sits a small prie-dieu and velvet-covered chair. George Washington had worshipped here during the brief period when New York had been our national capitol in 1796.
The old graveyard headstones lay out front, dated to the 1700s, the early years of New York City. The wrought iron fence surrounding the church had been featured in many photos afterward, festooned with pictures of loved ones lost and sought after by survivors. It is hard not to feel the powerful emotions that reside here.
From the cemetery, you can see the rising glass and metal eminence of the new 1 World Trade Center, the first of the four buildings that will occupy the former World Trade Center site. The memorial to 9/11 is fenced in amid the construction site of the four buildings and the underground museum that will open in 2014.
At the site, I was handed a ticket for entrance. Three different security personnel checked my ticket before I came to the airport-style security scanners. There, I removed my belt and anything metallic to get through the scanners. Then, I followed a circuitous path through a few more security checkpoints into the grass-covered expanse of the 9/11 memorial.
Two large, rectangular pools with black granite walls, measuring about 50-by-50 feet, sit on the original footprints of the north and south towers. Each pool is surrounded with black granite and marble walls standing about four feet in height. The black marble facing atop the walls has the names of people killed in the attack etched in bronze on its surface.
The names are grouped by where people worked or more grimly where they were found when their remains were recovered. The stories here are without number. These pools have a flowing waterfall rolling down their entire interior to a pool some 30 feet below the viewing area. The water then flows into an interior rectangular pool. The effect is bucolic and restful.
I stood by the black marble walls and gazed into the flowing reflective pools. I am not exactly sure of the symbolism that the memorial represents, but it does seem to ameliorate the remembered horror of the terrorist attack. So many memories of the televised events remain with all of us. Most Americans have some connection to one or more of the 9/11 victims. The unique moment of synchronicity will remain with each of us, like the day of President John Kennedy’s assassination, as long as we live.
I viewed a “survivor’s pear tree.” Some portion of the tree had survived the buildings’ collapse and then been grafted onto a healthy pear tree.
Between the pools, a glass-walled building holds several of the I-beams removed from the collapsed towers. It is the front portion of a subterranean museum featuring mementos and commemorations of the 9/11 disaster. It is scheduled to open in the summer of 2014.
I knew and remembered intimately the calamity that had happened here, yet the reflecting pools and the town-gathering-like atmosphere, of the thousands of daily visitors, much ameliorated the remembered horror of the disaster. Visiting with or being around the relations of those lost would imbue the memorial with much more emotion. It is indeed like visiting a treasured relative’s grave site in a nearby cemetery and quietly reflecting on the life and times of the loved one lost.
The site, with all of its memories, will be a premier visitor attraction for many years to come. I heard a swirl of different languages as I walked through the grounds, attesting to the international interest of the remembrance.
Like other grand cemeteries and memorials, including the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, the site will remind us, and those who come after, of what happened on that awful day, Sept. 11, 2001.