The 9/11 Memorial and Museum: “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time”
There isn’t a blissful optimism washing over you as you stare into the waterfalls at the 9/11 memorial gardens. They are a powerful, cavernous reminder of how horrible we can be to each other on this planet we all share. The names of every victim from that morning are carved into the granite ledge bordering the falls, many with flowers or other reminders attached to them. The falls and reflecting pools gracefully guide the water over a ledge to fall and seemly never land. You can’t help but be reminded of how many leapt to their end on that horrible morning, giving up their bodies with the hope their souls might never land.
This memorial and museum should be on everyone’s bucket list, and I can’t begin to tell you why, exactly. We are heavily scanned as we walked through the doors, a timely reminder that even as we mourn, we are at some risk of fanaticism. Everything about the Memorial is oversized. I think it’s intentional that you walk a long way even to the stairs that descend into the depths of the memorial. It reminds you of the different paths so many tried to take that morning both in escape, and rescue. Once below the surface of ground zero, the hallways darken and the first of thousands and thousands of images from that day begin to appear on the walls. Quotes, some displayed, some recorded and replayed from above you as you walk along, give you a real-time account of the day told through those that experienced it. To know that many of these voices you are hearing perish shortly after these recordings were made is the first of many difficult moments along tour journey.
When you think you can’t get any deeper underground, the museum opens up below you in a cavernous underground lobby (Foundation Hall) like something I’ve never seen. To know you are underground, but in such a large area really drives home just how grand these towers were, and how devastating the tragedy was to become. The tour takes you along and around the original footprint (And at some places the actual foundation) of the Trade Center as it stood on the Morning of the attacks. Just looking up at the damaged columns of iron and steel and glass is claustrophobic. Among the displays are the original antenna that sat atop the tower, and various personal items from those lost in the collapse.
As overwhelming as the Memorial starts out, it just keeps going. I was at times overcome with sadness, tears just streaming down my face as I read the stories of some survivors, heard the voices of some who did not survive, and saw the photos of first responders who came to help, only to be entombed in the crushing concrete and steel. I looked around as saw tears on the faces of many around me. This place draws the mourning out of you. You don’t care who sees you crying, it somehow makes you feel closer to these spirits haunting the wreckage.
Memorial Hall is the most somber of exhibits. Behind the giant wall, which is covered with individual watercolor paintings depicting shades of the sky blue on that morning, are the remains of some who will give testimony to the courage of the victims, and the cowardice of those responsible. Knowing that those victims will never be released from this tomb, and that they are somewhere on the other side of the wall we’re standing in front of, is quite possibly the toughest part of this very difficult tour. Another moment comes from looking at the Survivor’s Stairs, a now-decimated set of stairs and escalators that brought many survivors through the initial destruction. Within the confines of the Memorial Hall stands a photo gallery of each life lost forming a hallway inside of which are video memories of the deceased by the relatives. Bring an extra tissue.
After you leave the Memorial Hall’s tomb, the exhibit becomes more about the survivors, and the stories more about everyday heroes. The destruction is massive. Melted phones, glasses, and other personal effects. Day planners with reminders of meetings that would never happen. Emergency response vehicles that acted as shelter from falling debris while those inside tended the best they could to the injured. You could walk through this feature 100 times and still not see everything.
It’s a tough day spent to walk through the 9/11 Memorial, but you owe it to yourself to go. It’s a reminder how fragile we are as we cling to a life we seldom understand the meaning of. And also how sturdy we are to be able to survive the devastation, and still remain committed to loving each other.