A visit to the 9/11 Memorial

September 11, 2013

 9/11memorial tower and fog

9/11 memorial tower in the fog

It’s taken me a long time to write this post, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say.  But, here goes.

 A bunch of women friends and I met in NYC in May and some of us decided to visit the 9/11 memorial.


I wasn’t sure how it would be for me.

Politicians have poisoned my thoughts on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 so it’s hard for me to get clarity. First, the Bush Administration fear-mongered to get us to agree to lose certain important civil rights. Everything it did and even names chosen,  such as Homeland Security, aimed to promote fear, because Cheney and Company knew that fear is the very best way to control people.  Memorials are also chance for every politician in the world to posture and we’ve seen so much of that since that it really has jaded me.  When a politician says “Never forget” you can bet that he or she cares more for the political benefit gained from the human loss than for the human loss itself.

Yes, cold, isn’t it? But that’s how I think.

And while it’s so much easier to accept the “official” version of what happened that day, it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to know that we haven’t been told what actually happened.

As a man I know who is as far from a conspiracy theorist as possible said the other day, “I don’t know what happened on Sept. 11 but I do know that it’s certainly NOT what they said happened.” Agree.

Be that as it may,  what always gets lost in all the politics is the human element. And so, that’s what I chose to focus on for my visit in May.  I’d been tremendously moved by the Oklahoma City memorial and wondered how I would feel about this one.

9/11 security

Security was…strong. Evident. Everywhere. Uniforms. Dogs.   There had been no security at all to see the Oklahoma City memorial in late 2001. No visitor passes. No screening. We simply hopped out of the car and walked up.  But here? Long lines and airport-worthy security.  But the lines moved quickly.

9/11 Memorial visitor pass

9/11 Memorial visitor pass

There’s plenty of signage and a nice map that came along with the online tickets we’d reserved. It was easy to find our way to and into the Memorial.

The 9/11 memorial tower

The 9/11 memorial tower

The tower is  beautiful and  imposing.

memorial in fog towertop

When we arrived, the  fog was just starting to burn off, adding to the mystical mood I was in.

memorial in fog

The scale of the memorial was massive, encompassing all of Ground Zero.  The design is called Reflecting Absence. It is meant to be a forest of 400 sweet gum and white oak trees with two square pools in the center, where the Twin Towers once stood.

Quite a few people strolled in quiet contemplation. Some sat on benches and meditated.

911 crowd at grounds nice The trees are still  young. As they mature and grow, the feel of the memorial will change. For the better, I believe. Shady paths and huge trunks are called for.

But I won’t see it in my lifetime.

A single tree survived, scorched and broken, with one fresh shoot. It was rescued and nurtured back to health.

Only tree that survived the collapse of the Twin Towers

Only tree that survived the collapse of the Twin Towers

  The sole surviving tree was protected by cables. To me, though, it felt like the tree had been imprisoned, maybe the same way I think we’ve been imprisoned by the event. I could still see scars where the trees limbs had been torn off.

It reminded me that loved ones were torn off in the same way and survivors are scarred, too.

One of the pools and fountains

One of the pools.

It’s impossible to adequately convey the immensity of each pool and fountain.  Huge. Grey.  Stark.   The sterility left me cold.

I tried to wrap my heart around it, but it seemed too big, too sterile, too difficult to relate to.

Here’s what didn’t leave me cold:

Names on the 9/11 Memorial

Names on the 9/11 Memorial

The names. Each representing someone’s child, spouse, parent, friend, colleague, coworker. Almost 3,000 of them, surrounding each pool. Exact locations for each were determined by a complex algorithm.

I stood and traced my finger around some of the engraved names, wondering who they were and how their loved ones were doing. Whether their families came here often and if they felt the presence of the dead here.

If they found comfort here.

I do not pretend to understand killing of any kind. Not done by terrorists, by lunatics, by criminals, soldiers or by the state. I do not understand it. I can not accept it.

All these deaths on the same day.  Ahhh.

Dedication to first responders

Dedication to first responders

And then, outside, a dedication to first responders that took my breath away.

First responder brother keeping the dedication clean

First responder brother keeping the dedication clean

And also moving: a fellow first responder scrubbing the grime off the memorial, keeping it clean in memory of his brothers and sisters. The sheer humanity of this gesture, his activity, moved me more than the zillion dollar memorial.

rushing water at 9/11 memorial

The sound of rushing water surrounded us

The pervasive sound of the rushing water spoke of the infinite nature of life. That despite horrific loss it goes on, inexorably.

We go on. What else can we do?

Here’s a video of one of the pools, with the sound of rushing water:

19 comments on “A visit to the 9/11 Memorial
  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you for taking me with you today! I don’t know if I’ll get to see it or not.
    Just wish I could understand.

  2. Janie Emaus says:

    It’s a place I’d love to visit.

  3. Thanks for this, Carol. I so appreciate your nuanced take on this. I see all the memorial posts on this day, and I feel sick to my stomach as we sit poised on the possible brink of another stupid war.

    • admin says:

      I haven’t found a way to write about all my feelings…the millions of dollars spent on this sterile memorial that might have honored the dead more by being spent to help others…the way we beat the event’s memory to death instead of being respectful and meditative. Just the way we have to turn everything that happens into spending tons of money and to endless ceremonies for politicians to preside over. Sigh.

  4. Sharon Greenthal says:

    Over the past dozen years, I’ve been to New York quite a few times. I’ve yet to get the strength up to go to the memorial. The idea of it overwhelms me.

  5. My last visit to Ground Zero was in 2006. Tons of construction chaos going on. I hope to return after the museum opens next year and continue paying my respects to those we lost that tragic day.

  6. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I also visited Ground Zero several years ago, before the memorial was completed. I do plan to go back. Thanks for sharing your very honest impressions about your visit, Carol.

    • admin says:

      I’m very mixed about all of this, really. Just why we have to spend millions on something like this when there are more significant ways to honor.

  7. Donna says:

    You’re right about the man wiping the memorial to the first responders – that was a lovely image. Thank you for posting your photos and commentary.

  8. Ken says:

    Thanks for your post, Carol, and for the reflections in it. It puts me in mind of a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien that was set to music in memory of a founding member of our chorus:

    The Road goes ever on and on,
    Down from the door where it began.
    Now far ahead the Road has gone,
    And I must follow if I can,
    Pursuing it with weary feet
    Until it joins some larger way,
    Where many paths and errands meet.
    And whither then? I cannot say.

  9. Nancy Hill says:

    Oh Carol, I so understand where you are coming from. The photo of the first responder cleaning the plaque moved me to tears. The cold, commercial monument does not. And all that was abused by Bush & Co… that brings me to tears too. Never stop talking about your perspective on all this. It is valid and shared by oh so many. Thank you.

  10. Lance says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. We lived and worked in Manhattan on September 11th. We’ll never forget what we only refer to in house as “THAT DAY.” It needs no other explanation for us. We just returned to NYC to visit the September 11 Memorial last month – the first time in over 10 years since we’ve been back to lower Manhattan. I’m really glad we were able to return and put closure on the experience.

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