Fifteen years ago, I was a sophomore at Hillcrest High School. All of the events of September 11, 2001 will forever be burned into my memory: watching the second plane hit live on the news; hearing my principal announce over the loudspeaker that a plane hit the Pentagon; watching the towers fall as I walked into Dr. McGaffey’s second period english; and my mom telling me about how my uncle was supposed to be in the World Trade Center but his meeting in midtown ran late. The weeks following were a complete blur. Needless to say, that fateful September day was a very emotional day for all Americans.
This summer, I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and see the beautifully redeveloped World Trade Center site in downtown. Once again, it was a very emotional day.
My girlfriend and I rode the 1 train from our hotel in the Upper West Side to the Chambers Street station. We stopped to enjoy a bagel and a cup of coffee on a sidewalk bench. As we kept walking towards Ground Zero, I could sense that we were nearing a special part of the city – it was an eerie and solemn feeling that emanated from the neighborhood.
We turned on Vesey Street from Broadway and there it was: the gleaming One World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and the rest of the rebuilt Ground Zero. Like many of the other tourists, I was drawn to the tower. My eyes pointed to the sky and my neck craned to take it all in. The new tower is impressive in size, albeit lacking in details. The glass and steel blast-proof screening at the base is nice even though the rest of the base is not welcoming. The new tower is just an object with hardly any relation to the street – safety was obviously the driving factor here. With that said, visiting the tower wasn’t my objective for the morning.
I lingered at One World Trade Center, delaying the inevitable wave of emotions that I knew was coming once I approached the memorial. Much like the day of the attacks, I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for the scale of the pools of water. I wasn’t prepared for the seemingly endless ring of names. I wasn’t prepared for the vivid flashbacks. I couldn’t look away from the waterfalls as they cascaded down into the pools and then further to the middle where the water completely disappeared. The size of the pools – each an exact outline of the footprint of the towers – adequately represented the size of the empty hole my heart felt in 2001. I was taken back to that day in 2001 where I watched the events unfold with my family, my friends, and teachers – memories came rushing back that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I could have stared into the depth of the north pool for hours. But it was too much. Taking a step back from the memorial pools, I collected myself while sitting on a bench in the newly finished park that surround the memorial. I watched people come and go from the grounds: families visiting the city; school children on field trips who are not old enough to remember the attack; business men taking a shortcut through the park. One thing is certain, though, this part of NYC affects everyone. The park is a beautiful layer of calm that provides respite after being overwhelmed with emotions and memories. It serves as a soft and welcoming connector between the harsh memories of the past and the glitzy buildings of the present.
Our visit to Ground Zero concluded with a visit to the Transportation Hub. This incredible structure was designed by world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. While some people bemoan the project for its budget and schedule overruns, it is a beautiful space. It is also a fitting and appropriate addition to the World Trade Center site. The dark memorial pools evoke a raw emotional response that forces you to deal with the past. The Transportation Hub is bright and filled with light that encourages you to dream about the future. My eyes were immediately drawn upward, following the ribs of the oculus skyward. While standing beneath the glass of the oculus, I felt as if I was in a modern interpretation of a Gothic cathedral. The sudden rush of people exiting their train and heading towards the street reminded me that I was in the middle of a very modern New York City.
New York City is a special place. New York City is unlike any city I have ever visited. New York City is a proud city. New York City is a city filled with culture. New York City is a city not haunted by its past, but embraces it and builds upon it for the future. And the 9/11 Memorial grounds beautifully represent this idea: the new tower stands strong, the memorial pools honor history, and the transportation hub inspires the future.