Friday, September 11, 2015

Ground Zero

Today’s post is actually Part II in the story of our recent Labor Day Sprint Road Trip to New York.  I decided to post it out of order because of the date relevance.  I’ve been uber busy (not with driving people around, Silly!) since we got back into town and have only managed to rough out my write up of the trip so as not to lose any memories.  I’ll dole then out as I finish them up and subsequently sequential.  Without further ado…Part II of the New York Sprint Road Trip Saga: Ground Zero.

We exited the subway at Tribeca.  It was only a short walk south to World Trade Center.  In July, 2002 the subway didn't go anywhere near WTC so Mandy and I had hoofed it all the way from Grand Central to Ground Zero, asking bystanders how to get to Battery Park to avoid looking like we were looking for Ground Zero.
One World Trade towers above the city.  Whereas we found our way to the site thirteen years ago by gravitating to the big hole in the city, in 2015 we found Ground Zero at the base of the incredible towering tower.  I have conflicted feelings about the iconography that looms over the site, but I’m not going to go into all of that.
We walked into the plaza and made our way over to the north pool.  It was a short wait to move up to the plaque with the names and look into the pool.  While it wasn’t as eerily quiet as I remembered from my first visit there was a certain stillness and peace in the midst of the city that never sleeps.   
Boone was lost momentarily as we all wandered through the crowd.  After we rounded him up we made our way to the museum entrance.  We were about a half hour early, but they let us go ahead and go in.  The above ground building is deceptively small, but the bulk of the museum is under street level and actually under the pools.
Right away visitors are confronted with voices and words projected on the walls.  A few steps further you come out on a balcony overlooking the Last Column and one of the reinforced walls.  A turn to the right puts you at the top of the Survivors Staircase.

The exhibits under the south pool were the hardest to view.  There was the steel cross.  Photos weren’t allowed in the area, but I have a photo I took with my last film SLR when it was still above ground at Ground Zero in 2002.  There was the discreet corner with images of the people who jumped from the burning buildings.  Those images have always hit me the hardest, and I couldn’t look at them for more than a few seconds.  I stood around the corner anxious for my family to move on with me.
All through the museum there were more voices and more ghosts.  I'm not overwhelmed with patriotic emotion, but with the knowledge of what those people went through on that day when I was merely on my way to another day of college so far from the center of the world. 
Of course I know right where I was when I first heard about the attack on the Twin Towers.  Mandy and I were commuting to EKU.  We always listened to John Boy and Billy on the radio as we drove over.  They broke in as we crossed the Powell-Estil County line and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.  Before we reached Richmond they broke in again an announced the second plane had hit the other tower.  I knew the world had changed.
My thankfully ex-brother-in-law was losing his mind in front of the evening news.  He had a plane ticket in his hand, to fly off to basic training in the army on Thursday.  He ended up grounded like everyone else for a week longer.  But while the inevitable was delayed, the inevitable became a date with ground combat in Iraq for him two years later.  We wondered how he was doing in the sands of the Middle East even as we welcomed Boone into the world that April in 2003.
Mandy’s Uncle Jim worked in the city until 9/11.  He left his job and relocated to Connecticut afterward.  As the skies were devoid of contrails and time seemed to stand still, hearts and minds in Kentucky agonized over loved ones held silent in New York.  We didn’t have a direct connection to the attacks but it was felt through her family and simply from being a citizen of this country and a member of the human race.
When we climbed back up to the plaza I was an emotional limp noodle.  I don't think I ever want to go back to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  It’s like a coworker said when I got back to work: it's not exactly the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This post doesn’t do the experience justice.  I feel I fail as a writer because I can’t truly convey what I felt then.  Somewhere—I can’t find it right now—I wrote a letter to my children about 9/11.  I’ve never been able to channel the words to describe what I feel about this paramount event in my life.  9/11 is the JFK assassination of my generation.  It is the D-Day, the moon landing, and MLK’s death all rolled into one.  But it’s complicated in different ways.  It’s dark and sinister but full of the triumph of the human spirit and of a sense of coming together like no other I have witnessed in my four decades of life.
For me 9/11 was an awakening.  I realized I could no longer ignore world events.  I knew I needed to better understand politics and economics.  It was apparent I needed to learn more about Islam and Christianity than I thought I knew.  As an individual my innocence was stripped away in that moment—it was inevitable when I first heard the words “a plane has crashed into one of the Twin Towers” and the moment was presented in its entirety when the second plane hit.
Nothing else in my life has had such an impact on my world view or my personal beliefs.  To say that makes me feel less silly for standing in a dark corner of the 9/11 Museum and trying to hide my tears.  

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