Some people “dance it out” when they have pent up emotion or frustration, like on Grey’s Anatomy with Meredith and Christina. While this is not normally a topic for this blog, this is my blog and I needed a place to “write it out”.
I visited New York last weekend to see the 911 Memorial. Of course it was the coldest day in a winter that has spoiled us with spring temperatures since October’s Snowmaggedon. I was prepared to be emotional. I have seen the endless replaying of the day’s events each year as the anniversary approaches, watched the documentaries, and was prepared to be moved to tears. I feel a weird kind of survivor’s guilt as a former New Yorker. I have many friends who were much closer to what happened than I, and feel fortunate not to have lost any loved ones personally but we all lost something that day. So I thought I was prepared. Snaking around the airport-like security lines that walk you around whole city blocks I was thinking about my father, a union carpenter, and how proud I always was to say that my father worked on the Twin Towers back in the early 70’s. At the time I saw it more as – my father built the Twin Towers. I was a little oblivious to the 200,000 plus other tradesmen who helped him build the Twin Towers. My father was present at what he called the “Topping Off” party, when construction reached the highest level. This is what I was thinking as I approached the Memorial. I was trying to keep myself upbeat.
After more security checkpoints than people on the No-Fly list encounter at airports, you enter the Memorial site at what is called the Glade, an open area surrounded by the tree plantings of swamp white oaks, selected from within a radius of 500 miles of Ground Zero, as well as specimens from areas near the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA. In this mild winter the brown leaves still cling to the branches. It must be marvelous in spring. As you approach the south pool you hear the water falling into the pool. It is very quiet otherwise.
I remember seeing in a documentary that the bronze placques bearing the names of those lost would always feel warm to the touch so that if a loved one visited they could always reach out and touch their name. I wouldn’t say on that single digit temperature day that the placques felt warm per se but they were not cold either. I touched many names, including a few that became almost immediately folkloric like Todd Beamer, and Mark Bingham. It was overwhelming. The north pool’s waterfall was not on and that was quite sad to see. The museum is not open yet but you can look into it and see the giant trident supports rescued from the original structure. Heading back towards the glade I saw the first of several thing that really choked me up. It was the Survivor Tree. I had read about this tree some time ago and was really moved by it.
The tree was recovered from the rubble of the towers collapse. A decision was made to make every effort to save this tree. It was as if this tree would have to stand for all of the people who could not be saved that day. It was moved to the Van Cortlandt Nursery in the Bronx, almost an hour away and cared for with the best soil and natural enhancements possible. The tree truly looked as though it had endured a battle, its limbs severed down to stumps. The arborists had no idea if this tree, a callery pear, would survive. It happened at a time of year when the tree was already preparing to go dormant. They had to wait until spring to see that from one of the scarred stumps a shoot would sprout and a leaf would open up. This tree was nursed back to health very lovingly over the next ten years. Even so, it had to survive yet another episode of disaster when it was again uprooted by Hurricane Irene in 2010. Seeing that tree there and knowing how hard it had worked to survive and the help and care it received for ten years, I was overcome. When I got home I looked up the tree in spring. In the ten years’ time it had regained its mature height of 35 feet and in spring it blossoms into the perfect specimen of a beautiful pear tree and you can hardly see the scars.
From there we walked over to the Preview Site and Visitor Center, and Tribute WTC Visitor Center. We first passed by the FDNY Memorial Wall, a 56 foot bronze bas-relief sculpture on the side of the Firehouse for Engine Company 10 Ladder Company 10.
The dedication haunted me all day – “Dedicated to those who fell and those who carry on. May we never forget”. A framed poster alongside the sculpture shows the portrait of all 343 firefighters who made the supreme sacrifice that day.
Their names are carved into the sculpture. Visit them here: http://www.fdnytenhouse.com/fdnywall/bravest.htm .
Next we stopped by a small Visitor Center where a commemorative motorcycle designed by Paul, Jr. of American Choppers was on display. The shop was crowded and it felt odd to be looking at souveniers from this place. Around the corner is the Tribute Museum. It takes you through a multi-media sensory overload of wall panels, audio, video, artifacts, a timeline from the construction of the original World Trade Center, to the 1993 bombing, and through the aftermath of the recovery and re-building of the new World Trade Center. Walking through the first level you walk along a wall that is a re-created wall of missing posters, put up by the families hoping to receive word of their missing loved one. It is an extremely emotional thing to see. Then it brings you into a three walled room of floor to ceiling photos and momentos of those lost. These smiling pictures, contributed by family members, show their loved ones in happier times. Curated along with little items like little league trophies, eyeglasses, a business card, a finger painting, etc., this is the real tribute to those who died that day. At times I just wept and there were boxes of tissues everywhere. I was not prepared for how emotionally draining that would leave me for the rest of the day. Some people don’t want to feel those emotions. They’re difficult. I get that. I think it’s important though.
On a lower level, dedicated to hope for the future you descend a staircase through a curtain of colorful origami cranes. A placque on the wall explains that in Japan the crane is a symbol of longevity and that there is a legend that if one folds a thousand paper cranes a wish will be granted. Children in Japan contributed these colorful paper cranes and they have come to symbolize peace and hope for the future. In the room at the bottom of the stairs there are postcards on a wall. It is a place where anyone who visits can contribute their impressions and feelings and become a part of the tribute. School children from all across the United States made over 15,000 paper cranes to be given out to the families who visited the Memorial for the tenth anniversary. A basket overflowing with the cranes sits on a table in the place associated with Hope, offered to all who visit. I took one and will always cherish it and remember its meaning.
I don’t believe anyone can go there and be unmoved. You feel it when you’re there in a visceral way – a sacred, holy place where voices are hushed and a feeling of reverence comes over you. You will not be prepared either but you should go there sometime. When you are there, and your heart is heavy, just look up from just about anywhere and see the magnificent, gleaming One World Trade Center, called the Freedom Tower rising up to make the bold statement that we are still here. We will persevere. Upon completion it will stand 1,776 feet high and be the tallest building in the United States. Not in my lifetime perhaps but someday people will visit this place as a memorial park, as a place to enjoy life, a respite from the office, a picnic lunch, a concert or art exhibit, and not as another dead memorial like so many cannons or soldier statues we see in public spaces. I wish I could say that I’ve seen it and would not need to put myself there again but I can’t help it, I want to see it in spring, when the trees leaf out, when I believe I may be able to catch that feeling of hope.