I haven’t written any posts about my trip to New York in January 2012. I don’t really know why not. I think maybe it’s because New York is just so familiar to everybody that it’s hard to find anything new to say.
I don’t know that this post will offer anything new, but with the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center taking place today I felt compelled to write about my trip to the World Trade Center Memorial.
September 11th 2001 is a day seared into the memories of everybody who remembers it.
I was 22 years old, and I was just about to start my teacher training course. I was enjoying the last few days of my summer holidays wandering around the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre with my parents. I called into a petrol station to fill up the car, and as I waited in line I could see the TV screen behind the counter showing blazing buildings pumping out thick black smoke. The sound on the TV was off. I could not identify the city through the fire and the smoke on the images, but the scenes looked like they came straight from a war-zone.
When I got home and turned on the TV, the magnitude of those images became clear. The city was not a war-zone. It was New York: home of my favourite Broadway musicals and comedy shows. And in the time since I had seen those first grainy images of burning buildings, the two towers had collapsed – taking the lives of thousands with them.
A real-life disaster movie was unfolding before the eyes of the world, and national security as we knew it would be changed forever.
When I arrived in New York over a decade later, I was immediately struck by the skyline. Of course, I never saw the city with the Twin Towers in it – only in pictures and movies, but to me the skyline today is a skyline of loss. You can’t help but feel that something important is missing. The ghosts of those two colossal columns still seem to loom over the remaining buildings – gone, but never forgotten.
I had pre-booked tickets to the Memorial Center, but as it was just a week after New Year tickets were easily available and the memorial was fairly empty.
I must admit that I expected to find an ostentatious display of patriotism, but the museum was anything but that. In fact it was the opposite.
The sole focus, as it should be, is to quietly, and respectfully commemorate the lives that were lost.
After understandably vigorous security checks, we entered the park area and walked towards the fountains. The January air was chilly and a light drizzle fell from the leaden grey clouds that hung low overhead – so different from the dazzling blue skies that heralded the last day of the towers.
The ‘fountains’ are, in fact, two gaping caverns built upon the foundations of the North and South towers. Walking around these vast footprints shows just how imposing the towers must have been when they stood. Waterfalls cascade from the walls, plunging into darkness below. Around the edges of the waterfalls the walls are engraved with the names of the fallen – marking the final resting place of many of them.
It is a beautiful and serene spot. It is impossible to stand next to the fountains without reflecting on what really matters in life, on what is really important.
The memorial is a perfectly poignant tribute to all the victims, and their families.