It’s been almost 16 years since that horrific Tuesday morning when the world watched New York’s skyline change forever. Sixteen years since fundamental changes happened. Sixteen years since the first major attack on US soil since Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII. Sixteen years since the start of two different wars plus numerous other small armed conflicts. Sixteen years since my complete unawareness of this world politics ended. A few months ago, I made the long trip to New York City. I wanted to pay my respects and visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” —David Levithan, Love is the Higher Law
September 11, 2001, started like any other day. I got up and went to school. I was in 5th grade at the time. We knew something was up pretty early in the day. Recess had been canceled yet it wasn’t raining outside. There were police at the school and suddenly lots of kids were being picked up from school. Around lunch, a rumor started spreading that we had been attacked by the Japanese again. We were talking about WWII history in class and one of the other 5th graders had overheard something about planes and building in the office. Conclusions were drawn and imagination took over.
Shortly after that rumor started I was picked up by my mom and it was that I was about September 11 terrorist attack. I don’t think I really processed what had happened until much later. I had lost both my grandfathers while I was much younger and I understood death but a loss on this scale was different. The national mourner our loss but it wasn’t just a USA tragedy. It was an international tragedy. The dead included people from 90 plus other nations.
I didn’t know anyone who died but I did have family in New York City that day, but I could feel the loss. This tragedy was the largest American tragedy since the Jonestown Massacre in 1978. It was watched live on TV by millions. It was an incredibly difficult time that brought the US together in ways I still don’t we as a country understand. We all felt the loss. It took many years for the memorial and museum to come to fruition. The memorial opened in 2011 and the museum opened in 2014.
I walked out of World Trade Center Transportation Hub. I stepped on to hollow ground. This transit center was destroyed during the September 11 attacks. It was a short walk from the Hub to the plaza that holds the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The plaza has two great reflecting pools that stand in the footprints around the foundations of the two towers. The names of the victims are on plaques around the reflecting pools. I took time to walk around each of the two pools. It was not uncommon to see a rose or a note tucked into a victim’s name. One tree near the pools stands apart from the other trees planted in the plaza. This Callery pear is known as “Survivor Tree.” The tree was found in the burnt and damaged among the wreckage of the tower. With tender care, the tree shows new growth.
“September 11, 2001, revealed heroism in ordinary people who might have gone through their lives never called upon to demonstrate the extent of their courage.” —Geraldine Brooks
I have been to the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Mauthausen. I have walked the sites of the American Indian massacres. A tragedy happened at each of these sites, each visit was different but all of them were emotional visits. The 9/11 Memorial was different. This was the first memorial where I was a witness.
After the memorial, I headed over to the museum and bought a ticket to enter. It cost $24.00 and the money goes towards the museum operating budget. All tickets are timed for your entrance. Tickets can be bought up to six months advanced. The museum offers several guided tour options. For my first visit, I wanted to just explore the museum at my own pace.
Like most of New York, there is airport style security at the entrance and then a bag check. No bags are allowed in the museum. I checked my camera and camera bag and I walked into the museum. The museum starts with a walk down towards the basements. It starts with a small introduction to the events and metal beams from towers.
The first hall is the Foundation Hall. The walls of the hall are the original slurry walls that made up part of the Twin Towers foundations. The center of the slurry walls is the Last Column. It was the last piece of the towers to be removed from the site. It is covered with memorials and missing posters. Around the hall are metal beams and works of art made to honor the victims.
One of the walls is covered in a multitude of blue squares. That wall makes it hit home. This isn’t just a museum. It’s a mausoleum. Behind that wall is the final resting place of the over 1,000 unidentified victims of 9/11. They are buried where they died.
My next exhibit was Memorial Exhibition. This exhibition has 2,983 portraits on the walls. Each portrait is of a victim. The exhibit has various interactive stations when you can learn about a specific person and learn about them and their family. In a chamber inside the exhibit, you can hear the family stories about loss, funny memories of their relatives, and coming to terms with the loss. Every story heart-wrenchinging.
The last exhibit was the Historical Exhibition. No photos are allowed in this section and I am not sure why anyone would want to take them here but I saw few selfie which just added to the emotions of the day. The exhibition goes thru that fateful morning minute by minute with firsthand accounts, video footage, photos, and audio recordings from that day. The audio recording includes first responder conversations as well as final phone calls from the towers and airplanes.
I walked out of the museum three hours later and was emotionally drained. It is the hardest museum I have ever been to. I felt like I was physically reliving the past. It was almost worse for me because I am now 16 years older and have a great understanding of loss.
“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.” —former President George W. Bush