The 9/11 Memorial is sad. It is solemn. It is beautiful, perhaps in the way that dark clouds on a stormy day are beautiful. It is brilliantly conceived. And looming above it, still under construction, rises the skyscraper that will replace the Twin Towers as the tallest building in our half of the world.
When I first heard that a Memorial was being erected to commemorate the people murdered by Islamic terrorists at the World Trade Center, I was not pleased. Nor was I a fan of leaving the “footprints” of the Twin Towers undeveloped out of respect for those who had been killed.
To my (closed) mind, the proposed memorial would be akin to not rebuilding Europe after World War II because everywhere a soldier or a civilian died was considered sacred ground. One does not construct a shopping mall, an apartment complex, or a single-family home over a graveyard.
Given that way of thinking, most of Europe would be a cemetery.
I had no complaints about honoring the dead. Heroes should be honored. Victims should be treated with respect. I just believed that they were being honored out of proportion to the nature of the crime.
I was wrong.
The World Trade Center was not Europe. It was a privately owned group of buildings occupied by 430 companies and about 35,000 people. It symbolized capitalism, and it was targeted because capitalism symbolizes the American Way of Life. Those who responded to the inferno were not soldiers; they were firemen, cops, and emergency workers – private citizens, one and all.
The devastation of Europe by Nazis was horrific, but it existed within the context of war. Everything and everyone was canon fodder. All suffered. None were spared. When the war was over, the focus was not on the past, but on survival. As nations, Europe had to go forward. It had to rebuild.
The attack on the World Trade Center was different. There had been no declaration of war and no advanced warning. We were innocent, oblivious, and unprepared.
All who watched in stunned horror as the Twin Towers went down remembered Pearl Harbor. To quote from a speech given by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
To quote from a speech given by Rudolph Giuliani at the United Nations, “On September 11th 2001, New York City – the most diverse City in the world – was viciously attacked in an unprovoked act of war.”
The parallels are unmistakable, both in execution and in elocution. But it took me a long, long time to realize that the similarities did not end, nor should they have, with the lives of the innocent victims. In both instances, bodies could not be recovered. In both instances, a crime scene became a burial site.
Initially, I had no intention of visiting the 9/11 Memorial. Not now. Not next week. Not ever. But my brother Chuck came in for a visit. He wanted to go, so I made it happen.
From the minute we arrived until long after we left, I was in a state of disbelief, reverence, and awe. All of my perceptions had been misperceptions. All of my conceptions had been misconceived. Look down into the footprints. Your heart breaks. Look up at the of the sun’s reflection on the windows of the new World Trade Center. Your heart swells with a sense of hope. A sense of joy. A sense of the glittering triumph that is New York.
Let me tell you about visiting the site.
First, you get in a long line that moves swiftly through a narrow maze of aisles, scanners, and security guards. Within that passage, you see only temporary walls, tourists, shuffling feet, and arrows pointing this way and that. Finally you spill through the last corridor. It opens onto the 9/11 Memorial. Instantly, you are humbled. Instantly, any reservations you may have had about the necessity or appropriateness of Memorial vanish.
Unequivocally and incontestably, this is hallowed ground.
The Twin Tower footprints, now Memorial North Pool and Memorial South Pool, were the foundations from which the original World Trade Center sprung. Each encompasses about an acre. At first glance, they seem too small to have contained 10 million square feet of office space. At first glance, they seem too big to be repositories of so much human-scale sadness and grief.
You approach. You see gracefully positioned names on thick bronze slabs surrounding each pool. Someone who loved Patrick tucked a rose for him into the first letter of his name. All of the names are etched deeply into the bronze, as if to withstand time, weather, and eternity. If you look closely, you can see water cascading down the sides of the pool through the slash of each letter.
The pools themselves are somber architectural poems. Water tumbles over the tops of each side and flows thirty feet down to the glasslike surface of the base. From there, it descends into a black hole. Stand anywhere along the parapet – side, corner, left, or right – at no place can you see the bottom of the hole. Like the water and the 9/11 victims, your desolation and your sense of loss disappear into the void.
Some interesting facts about the Memorial.
• It commemorates the largest lost of life on American soil from any foreign attack (2,403 people died at Pearl Harbor. 2,977 died on September 11, 2001).
• Of those who perished, 400 were our heroes – firemen, police officers, and rescue workers – “First responders who died performing their sworn duties.”
• The oldest person to die in the attacks was an 85-year-old man named Robert.
• The youngest was a 2½-year-old named Christine.
• The Memorial was designed by architect Michael Arad, who called his design “Reflecting Absence.”
• The names are not engraved on the bronze parapet alphabetically. Instead, friends and co-workers, lunch buddies and bosses are all grouped together “… as they lived and died.”
In his speech to the United Nations after the al-Qaeda attacks, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani said:
The evidence of terrorism’s brutality and inhumanity, of its contempt for life and the concept of peace is lying beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center…look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism: You’re either with civilization or with terrorists.
Visit the 9/11 Memorial. Pay tribute to the innocent who lost their lives: The John Does and the John Waynes. The working stiffs and the guys who lived next door. Look down into the pools. Be sad.
Think about religious fanatics who target civilians, murder children, and vow to destroy our republic and our way of life. Be mad.
Look up at the triumphant phoenix of the new World Trade Center, soon to be the tallest building in Northern Hemisphere. Be glad.
Sweet land of Liberty.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben