On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was enjoying a first cup of coffee, getting ready to write that day, when my younger son called.
"Turn on the TV," he said, his voice taut. "A plane just hit the World Trade Center!"
On such a gorgeous, blue-sky, Indian summer day? It didn’t seem possible. Like many people then, I first thought it must have been a small private plane. Then I switched on the TV—and couldn't believe my eyes. While I was watching, the second plane hit the other building in a ball of fire. In very little time both iconic towers imploded, crumbling into dust. The Pentagon in Washington had a gaping, still-burning hole in its side. A Pennsylvania field was strewn with debris. And thousands of people lost their lives.
Devastating. And I didn't write for a month.
The horrendous attacks had a personal element as well. My husband is a native New Yorker. We met and fell in love in the city. Lived there as young marrieds. Our first child was born in Manhattan. It's still like my second home.
I'd had drinks once in the towers’ Windows on the World restaurant with stupendous views from the top. Soon after the attacks I visited the Ground Zero site. In the middle of that busy downtown area, not a taxi cab horn blew, and people talked in hushed tones. An eerie pall hung in the air. Visitors met each other’s eyes in mute horror. The site was nothing but rubble.
Fast forward to this July, fourteen years later, when I attended the RWA conference in New York, and finally got the chance to see the finished 911 memorial. Built mostly underground except for its entrance lobby, the new museum is under the plaza above so you're walking within the original towers’ footprints. In the basement, really. This is the last beam that was standing.
In rooms designated for towers one and two you see every victim's picture. A huge wall of tiles in various shades of blue described by people who were in the area on 9/11 is visually stunning. No two shades are exactly the same.
At a display where you can listen to the stories of victims and see photos from their lives, I overheard a woman who'd apparently lost a child then—perhaps a grandchild—say to another: “I still can’t get rid of that crib.”
Outside, above ground, in the pretty park are two squarish-pools/fountains. The pools are ringed at a slight distance by trees, each of which represents a standing column in the original towers' actual footprints. These trees stand directly above the underground museum.
Seeing the museum was a very moving experience but also a cathartic one.
The nearby Freedom Tower, since renamed One World Trade Center, is a marvel of twenty-first century architecture with a nod to our country’s beginning in its 1776-foot height. Its incredible high-speed elevators rush you to the top in seconds before the car’s walls suddenly transform into a mural of New York City and the doors open to the best 360-degree view from its observation deck to be had.
The city, it tells you, and its people—the American people—have survived. Too many human beings who laughed and loved and lived on that clear September morning went off to work—and never came home. That’s still shocking. Nothing can bring back even one of those victims, and as Franklin D. Roosevelt said after Pearl Harbor, that day too “shall live in infamy.” It's also a constant reminder, like the new memorial museum, to...
Never Forget. September 11th will always be a day to remember.