I still remember where I was when I saw the first plane crash into the twin towers. I was on vacation, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, watching Good Morning America. The show was about to go off and we were preparing to go out on the beach. We didn’t move for four hours that morning. I remember feeling stunned, shocked and sad. I remember anger, too. I remember thinking that the world had irrevocably changed. I’m sure my memories are no different than most everyone’s who saw those terrible events unfold.
I also watched the unveiling of the memorial in New York City on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. It was impressive and touching, but I couldn’t get a grasp on the place. I wasn’t sure how it made me feel to be honest. Last week, on the way home from our honeymoon, we had some time in New York and took the opportunity to visit the memorial for ourselves.
The site itself is impressive, full of silence, except for the sound of water raining down into the foundations where the towers once stood. There was a large crowd there, but it never got loud. People were talking and you heard the occasional laugh, of course, but everyone present seemed to be mindful of the place. I watched a man take a rubbing of a name, wondering if it was a friend, a relative or what. Not for any lyrical reason, but the chorus to the song Tears in Heaven kept running through my mind. It struck me that the water in the two fountains represented the tears cried since the attack.
I will freely admit I got choked up a couple times as I walked along. Mostly the feeling got to me when I saw a woman’s name followed by “and her unborn child.” My daughters were 10 months old and “in utero” respectively on the day of the attack. I noticed it many times.
The memorial site itself is extremely secure. You just can’t walk onto these hallowed grounds like Arlington National Cemeter in Washington DC for example. To visit, you have to reserve a space. You can do it online or show up and see if the time slot you want is open. It’s free, but you have to have a ticket. Even then, with your name on the ticket, you have to pass through three or four checkpoints, produce a “government-issued ID” and go through an X-ray screening of your bags. I assume this heightened screening is to stop someone from defacing the memorial or from trying to make a political display there…adding insult to injury.
The members of the New York Police Department who stood guard inside the memorial grounds appeared serious and edgy. They definitely did not have the look of someone on guard duty who was bored or slacking off. They certainly will never forget the events of 9/11.
On the other hand, it was good to see One World Trade Center gleaming beside the memorial. I know there was a lot of debate about whether to build anything on the site at all, but I think it was for the best to rebuild. Other than being an enormous building in a city full of them, it is highly symbolic about our will to rebuild from tragedy.
I’ve had the good fortune to visit both the memorial at the Pentagon in Washington DC and now the one in NYC. At some point, I’ll probably visit the monument in Pennsylvania for Flight 93, although all of the victims from the Pentagon and all four planes are represented in New York as well. It seems as if many people want to make a pilgrimage to see the name of Todd Beamer, the man who famously said “Let’s roll!” as the passengers on board Flight 93 foiled the hijacking plot. His name appears to be gilded, but it is simply where the frequent touches have polished the metal of the memorial.
I’m obviously not writing this on any anniversary or important date associated with the attack. But I think it’s just as well to remember that attack on random days throughout the year, not just anniversaries. We must never forget what extremism in any form can lead to. It leads to young babies never being born and parents never going home to be with their children, only to be remembered as a name engraved on a memorial.
As we approach the Fourth of July holiday weekend, it’s fitting to remember what this country was built on. There have been difficult times and struggles. As a nation, we have been attacked and have pulled together as a result. Lately, it seems like we’ve lost our way a little bit in the political partisanship and rancor of a process that seems off-kilter. I know the spirit of the United States is still strong. After all, that is what built this country—spirit.
Ultimately, that’s probably the purpose memorials like this one serve. Of course, they are there to help heal and to remember those who died. But they also to help us slow down and remember important events, even on random days throughout the year, to remember the time afterward when as a nation we resolved that we would never let hate defeat our country..