Daily Life · Travel

We Remember [My Visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum]

Back in June, I finally made my way to New York City for the very first time. I haven’t written about the trip… mostly because this blog was seriously neglected at the time. I’m not going to talk about the whole trip today, but I am going to talk about a piece of it.

First, a little back story… I was invited to a dear friend’s wedding in Boston in June and I decided to make the most of my plane ticket back east and include a personal trip to the Big Apple before heading to Boston (maybe that’ll be a post for another day). At some point in my pondering and deciding and date searching, my parents asked if they could join me in New York. They had it on their bucket list. I immediately said yes – I knew company would be awesome and it’d be fun to do with them. Plus, we were all very united in our “must see” lists.

At the top of the list was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

We began our day early with Mass at St. Peter’s in the Financial District. We had wanted to get Mass in first since we weren’t sure how long our other activities might take. Plus, it seemed best to start such a day with prayer and reflection at the oldest parish in New York State – just a couple blocks from the World Trade Center. It’s also the site where Fr. Mychal, chaplain of the New York Fire Department and first certified fatality, was taken (carried to the altar after his body was recovered).

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After Mass, we made our way to the Memorial. It was amazing to see the size and scope of the base of the towers through the Memorial fountains after only having seeing pictures and film of the Twin Towers my entire life.

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We paused at both the North Tower fountain and the South Tower fountain before making our way into the the museum. We watched a film before making our way down the stairs to the exhibition space.

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There are a few pieces out in a more open exhibition area where photography is allowed, but the bulk of the museum exhibits are behind a set of glass doors, with no reentry and no photography. We noticed at the end of our visit that the “average time to visit” that portion was 45 minutes. We were in there for MUCH longer.

The exhibition is broken into three galleries: the timeline of September 11, before September 11, and after September 11.

On September 11, 2001, I was up way too early in my Southern California home doing the homework I hadn’t had time to complete the night before. I was up when both towers were struck and when the Pentagon was struck, but I was oblivious being on the west coast (and not having the TV on). My mom woke up an hour or so later and turned on the Today Show like she does every morning. She called me out of my room and together we watched what was happening on the east coast. Together we learned, with the rest of the country, of Flight 93’s crash in Pennsylvania.

“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.”  – U.S. President George W. Bush.

Together, my mom, my dad, and I entered the exhibit and started at the beginning of the timeline. Relearning the day’s events that were playing on repeat on the news for us that morning. We saw the live clip of Matt Lauer announcing the breaking news in the middle of a segment. We read details, listened to voicemails (definitely the hardest part for me), saw artifacts, and slowly absorbed, as best we could, the day as those on the ground and in the air did. We spent hours in there. At times moving together and slowly drifting apart and then back together. Sharing pieces with each other and having quiet discussion. Solemnly and respectfully, we paid tribute.

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Early on, I caught the conversation of a couple behind me. They were looking at a graphic of the South Tower. The graphic showed the tower with the companies by floor and who was above, below, and in the impact zone. Perhaps they’d long ago block out the knowledge that their daughter’s company was in the impact zone or perhaps they’d never realized it, but you could hear the shock in their voices and the relief in their words and on their faces. “We are just so lucky.” Their daughter was on a different floor during the attack and she made it out safely.

A little later, my dad came up to me. “Do you see that couple?” They were moving through the exhibition with their daughter. They saw a photo of a man they knew (I can’t remember now if it was a friend’s son, their son, or their son’s friend). He also survived. When I later made my way to where the were, to where my dad had been reading before he came to find me, and saw that it was a picture I’d seen many times before in the news.

As amazing as it was too see the artifacts, heart-wrenching and shocking though some were, it was made all the more significant overhearing the stories of the people walking through the exhibition at the same time as me. Some, like the ones above, knew survivors, others were local (or localish), and like me, some were visiting from somewhere else. Yet this one event united everyone walking through those galleries. We remembered where we were when we heard the news. We’ve experienced the aftermath. Like those days after the attacks, we were united. You could tell from the stories of these people, even in snippets, that politics didn’t matter in that moment. Even in moving to the after, you didn’t hear the negativity or division that you hear now. I saw what the memorial and the museum being there meant for them.

“Remember the hours after Sept. 11 when we came together as one…It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.” – Then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, in 2004.

We spent a really long time in the first gallery and fatigue slowly started to set in as we moved to the before and the after. I learned that the before, the previous attacks on the Twin Towers, took place on my 8th birthday. It was strange to see my birthday written so many times, but it was amazing to learn how that failed attack helped save so many lives on September 11. The emergency procedures and evacuation drills set in motion after that day prepared so many people.

The after talked about the memorials around the world, the clean up, the war. I was moved to tears watching video of crews ceremoniously removing the last column from Ground Zero and then I made my way back out to the larger gallery space and spent some time with that very same column.

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As we began to make our way out, my dad and I stopped to “sign” the wall (Mom was nowhere to be found, and possibly looking for me, and disappointed later that she’d missed that opportunity).

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With a different set of eyes, we made our way out of the museum and saw the fountains and One World Trade again.

“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.” — U.S. President Barack Obama in a 2011 radio address.

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I will always remember you and I’ll carry your stories that I’ve learned with me into the world.

“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” – Author David Levithan in his book “Love is the Higher Law.”

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4 thoughts on “We Remember [My Visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum]

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