In New York City for the joyous occasion of a wedding, we picked that afternoon to go to Ground Zero. Going to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum was as stirring and life-affirming as reading Anne Frank’s acclaimed, The Diary of a Young Girl. As I finished the 1995 release of her memoir, I took it to my mom, who was an avid reader. She turned her head away saying she couldn’t possibly read something so forlorn and distressful. I tried to help her understand that although written by a young girl in extreme circumstances, the book is filled with a positive perspective that increased my appreciation of the smallest of good things. Mom would not bend and read it, which made me sad because I know she would have felt compassion and kindness toward the young author.
We can learn from the events in life that come with the highest cost.
The 9/11 Memorial, “Reflecting Absence,” is beautiful. The waterfall is a delicate balance between serene and impactful. You see and hear the rushing water that spills to a slow and subdued flow as it glides into the empty center square. The liquid calms the racing of your heart caused by seeing the nearly 3,000 names etched through the sides. There are people everywhere, yet there is no jostling, none of the usual annoying behavior that occurs when you are encompassed by a titanic crowd. Unlike people taking smiling selfies while on the USS Arizona National Memorial, this assemblage showed the requisite reverence.
The 9/11 Museum building
It is difficult to use the word “museum” for the structure housing the artifacts and history from that dreadful day. Mentally, it’s understandable that museum is the proper word for it. But having this event occur in my living history makes museum feel incorrect. Perhaps I could call it a tribute, but “gift” is not at all right. The waterfall is considered the Memorial, so what I’m left with is thinking of the museum as a commemorative site. Awkward words, but suitable.
Inside, there are numerous exits scattered around. It is immediately apparent why some people could choose to exit early. From the outside, the building has a very small footprint, fooling the visitor into thinking, this won’t take long. Our self-tour lasted almost three hours. You begin on the topmost floor with a short movie made exclusively for the museum. The film includes snippets from President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and others relating what was happening throughout that horrific morning.
You begin your slow wind down through the displays until you wind up seven floors below ground, staring up at the slurry wall and realizing that you truly are standing on the bedrock of a symbol of American strength.
Containing your emotions is grueling
At one point I turned to my husband and said, “I’m done in.” In minutes, I realized that Alex was speeding up his viewing. Hugging him, I explained, “I don’t mean for us to stop. I mean that I am emotionally drained.”
Be prepared for feeling the devastation of the morning’s events, of the days and weeks that followed. But don’t think those emotions will be from seeing anything gruesome. You do not. You see triumph and the human spirit rising up and you learn, you learn, you learn.
Drawing on willpower that came from somewhere else, I watched the film tucked into one enclosed area — the film of the second plane hitting. On September 11th, I was at work. By 9:03, we were online, rapt by the news coverage. We stared in horror as the plane struck in real-time. It was surreal then and remains surreal now.
That day, our company — with offices in one of the towers — closed operations at 10:30. Driving home via a two-lane back road, tears cascading as I listened to the radio for updates. I came upon a small bit of road construction. For the singular moment where I had to stop near a workman, we looked directly at each other. In a rush as my car moved forward, multiple thoughts sped through my head: He probably thinks what’s wrong with that idiot woman causing her to cry and then I gasped, Oh my God, there are people who do not know that this has happened.
I have often reflected on that man and wondered if, when he finally heard the news did he think, That’s why that woman was crying.
Allow yourself to feel and to keep feeling
Although there were many times throughout the museum when I couldn’t stem my emotions, at the end I did not succumb to depression. Much like reading Anne’s stirring memoir, my heart was sorrowful and angry. The experience (the book) did nothing to alleviate the bewilderment as to why anyone would do something so devastating under the guise of their god (their leader). But I was grateful I read and I was grateful we went. What a grand education it would be if the museum could tour our country. Children born since 2001, teenagers who were too young that year, and adults — we who remember too well — could absorb what happened, learn about the evil behind the hijackings, and how everything in our country changed on a singular September morning.