This is not my first memorial monument or landmark celebrating something lost. Sites I’ve visited include the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Parthenon, Chichen Itza, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. All impressive. At each, I felt a sense of reverence and awe, but I was too young to understand their history and importance. Nor did I have a personal connection to any of the events or people for whom these monuments had meaning.
This is not my first time to the place in Lower Manhattan once called Ground Zero. I was there in 2006, before plans for redevelopment were finalized. It was a chill, overcast day and an eerie sense of loss loomed in the air. A nameless, faceless undercurrent buzzed, not audibly, but on my skin, like static electricity about to spark. Visitors wandered around the fenced-in gashes and scars of the two towers. The site was crowded with the souls. The unseen souls longing to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. The souls with physical bodies just trying to process the devastation.
In the late 1980s, the World Trade Center was one of my New York haunts. I lived in Brooklyn and worked in the financial district. My commute started with the RR subway in Bay Ridge, to the Towers, and then a walk in the Towers’ shadows to Fulton Street. I knew people who worked in the Towers. My mom worked across the street prior to her leaving the work force. Soaring up to the observation deck was a must-do for all my out-of-town guests. Like so many routine places, I often didn’t even see the towers, but their presences was unmistakable.
This past summer, I was the out-of-town guest and I had to visit. I couldn’t not go given my history, and personal ghosts lingering in the faded shadows of the original towers.
June 2018: I Visit the New Tower and Memorial
I am one of thousands. Many wait in the line for the observation deck at the top of One World Trade Center. Others wait to enter the museum. I don’t have the heart or the time to do either. I have yet to fully process the disaster, the loss, the reconstruction. I find a bench and soak in the warm, golden late afternoon sun filtered by an adolescent oak tree.Around me are families, couples, solo travelers. They meander, look up, and point. They pose for selfies and family photos. Fashions of the world — saris, hijabs, jeans, flip-flops, heels, dresses, button-down shirts, and t-shirts — speckle the area with color and texture. French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and other languages weave together, forming a linguistic quilt around my shoulders.
Where else can such a mosaic of cultures and beliefs congregate? It’s comforting to witness this congregation of humanity paying tribute to the memorial built on the spot of of a most inhuman event.
Yet, something nags at my conscience. The sun warms me more than the idea of thousands here to honor the thousands who suffered, fought, and perished here.
What do people see looking at the tower? Or going up to the observation deck? Or entering the museum? How many of their posed photos and selfies are digital trophies of a bucket-list item checked? Are they here to bear witness or to be seen across social media? No one here behaves disrespectfully, but I only see a fraction of their visit. Perhaps inside their observable behavior was more reflective and reverent.
I survey the previously named Freedom Tower from the ground up to the 104th floor, shielding my eyes from the sun’s reflection from the mirrored glass. It’s too bright to see ghosts, and the surrounding conversations make it hard to hear them.
Will this place allow their stories to be heard? Will their names truly be seen?
Do people with personal connections to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial have similar questions? Did they consider me one of the buzzing tourists clicking away with my camera? Do they see and hear the ghosts of the names and faces etched into the wall?
I weigh my thoughts and emotions about the 9/11 Memorial. I’m in awe. I’m glad there’s life and commerce again. I’m glad people from around the world come to see first-hand the former Ground Zero. I wonder if the Memorial Pools, the Museum, and the towers have made a lasting impression on the selfie-takers. I fear the commercialization overrides the global healing intentions of the architects and designers. I hope the Memorial has brought a wisp of peace to the lost, the survivors, and the courageous first responders. Whether visitors come to see or to be seen, may this place shine the light of peace on the world, one selfie at a time.
I'm a Chicago-born baby raised in Connecticut with a two-year diversion in Beirut, Lebanon. As an adult, I'm a nomad having lived in New York; Connecticut; London, England; (back to) Connecticut; Ohio; and now Florida. I have traveled by foot, by bike, by air, by car, by motorcycle, by boat, and by train. I remain constantly curious about the world.