Today is September 11th, and like most Americans, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on that terrible day back in 2001. I remember the days after and I remember the first time I saw Ground Zero. In 2005 I moved away from New Jersey and the constant visual reminders but the images are etched in my memory.
In November of last year, during our quick getaway trip to New York, we had a chance to visit the 9/11 memorial. While the museum was not yet done, the memorial was finally open to the public and it was on my must-see list.
On our last day in New York, we decided to make that our first stop. We thought we would “quickly” see the memorial before getting some breakfast. That turned out to be slightly optimistic. We arrived a little before 9:30, and asked the guard what time the memorial opened. He told us, “10am, but we will open up the line for non-ticket holders in a few minutes. Turned out, you could get free tickets online and reserve a viewing time. Those who did not plan (or didn’t know that was a possibility), had to wait in the non-ticket holder line, and be let in as space became available. We looked and saw a line quickly forming so we made it quickly to the end of it.+
As they take us in, we see them taking donations to enter, with a suggested donation of $10 a person, cash only. However, it was one of those day when my husband and I collectively had only $8 in cash between us. We feebly gave her the money apologizing, but the kind lady assured us this was fine and the donation was not required to enter.
We were lucky to join the line as it formed, and was able to be let in to see the memorial area around 10 am. However, the first area in the memorial is…security. Yes, the legacy of 9/11 is alive and well here. All items went through x-ray, all persons went through a metal detector, no bag went unsearched. After security you walk a long path, with tall chain link fences on either side holding signs that block your view of the contraction and rebuilding happening just on the other side.
It sneaks up on you. You walk for what feels like forever, then you turn a corner, and suddenly there it is. It’s an enormous grassy area, but on it are the two huge, hard to ignore pools. The main attraction of the memorial, two fountains that are in the foot print of the two towers that went down. On the sides of the fountains are names, names of those souls who never came home. Police and firemen have a special designation by their name. They went in to rescue and perished in the process of saving others.
People by the pools are mostly silent. They recognize this as a sacred place. Some cry. Some laugh. Some just immerse themselves in photographing the place. Some look for a loved one. I myself went over to the fountain for the south tower, and went to visit the name of a college classmate of mine.
After reflecting and praying, we walked the grounds a bit and found the Survivor Tree. Discovered in the wreckage, the tree was taken from the site after the attacks, and nursed back to health in a local nursery. It has since been returned to the site and is thriving, a symbol of resilience and inspiring all those who see it.
Afterward we went to the gift shop, where credit cards were accepted, to make our donation through merchandise. While we shopped for gifts for the kids and ourselves, I took notice of an exhibit they had, a video in a loop of first hand stories of survivors, and memories from family who lost someone. A poignant story I remember was a video of a man talking about his sons. The man was a retired firefighter and had two sons: one a firefighter, one a police officer. Both went into the towers in 9/11 and never came out. For a parent to lose a child is torture. To lose both your children in one day must be pure hell. But he talked calmly about how with both children, he talked to them before they went in, as he did every morning, and signed off both phone calls with “I love you”. He said he was lucky, not everyone can say their last words to their children were “I love you”. His strength in tragedy is to me the example of mankind at its best. No matter what evil exists in the world, but there is always good, there is always hope, there is always love.
9/11 Museum & Memorial: The Memorial is generally open from 7:30 AM – 9 PM daily. The Museum is now open to the public, generally 9 AM to 8 PM daily. It’s highly suggested you pre purchase your tickets to the museum online prior to your visit. Museum is $24 for adults, $18 for seniors, US vetrans, and US college students, $15 for children 7-17, under 6 and 9/11 family members are free. Free admission on Tuesdays. Check www.911memorial.org for more details.
+ Note: Now that the museum is open, they no longer do free reservation times to see just the memorial. However, if you buy a ticket to the museum, it will include a scheduled time to see the memorial.
* Starred photos taken by Atma Photography