On a bright and beautiful Sunday morning this past weekend in New York City, I finally had an opportunity to visit the memorial site for the World Trade Center.
With my brother, sister-in-law and their 12-year-old daughter, we took a taxi to the 8-acre site in lower Manhattan where the infamous Twin Towers once stood. The site is deceiving because construction fences surround the area and you can’t see the two black stone squares containing the waterfalls or even hear the waterfalls from the road. It just looks like a regular construction site.
Getting to the memorial site is a multi-step process that involves a free ticket (you need to go online to make your reservation and print out your ticket before visiting the site) and then passing through a number of checkpoints where your entry ticket is scanned and then a larger security stop where you and everything else you own is placed in plastic tubs and run through a scanner. Once you complete this security process, you gain entry to the historic site where you can then walk freely around the memorial and remember that fateful day when almost 3,000 people lost their lives to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Walking towards the black stone squares, I began to hear the sound of water falling. It felt as though the closer we got to the water the more the sound of it buffered us from the everyday noises of the city and served almost like a curtain, shutting out all distractions. The site is hallowed ground and people automatically lower their voices and are respectful of each other’s space as they visited.
As I began my journey into this place of quiet reflection, I thought of the horror of that day. My relatives and I started talking about the names carved into the black stone surrounding the waterfalls — the first responders, the people on the planes, the workers in the towers and also the people in the Pentagon who died that day. As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says in the memorial’s commemorative guide, the World Trade Center Memorial is “a reminder of the enormous loss suffered on 9/11, but (it) also is a symbol of hope for the future.”
The hundreds of people who visited this past Sunday and future Sundays come to honor and pay their respects to the memories of those who lost their lives that day but we also come to see how this part of the city is recovering and rebuilding after the devastation of the Twin Towers collapsing. And isn’t that what grieving and healing are about after all?
Your heart is devastated, you can’t imagine any kind of future because your loss is so deep and so painful, yet you put one foot in front of the other and minutes turn into hours, hours into days and days turn into months and finally years. It is a slow and steady process of allowing pain, anger, frustration and sadness into your life and then working through it enough to feel stronger, to rebuild and go on with your life. It’s about finding resilience within yourself. I have found that it is possible to experience the loss of a spouse and to find my way to a different life. There are moments when life is bittersweet but I think it is important to have faith and to be positive about your direction. It is not a linear process because one moment I found myself to be happy and then a wave of grief unexpectedly would cascade over me. After nine years, I still struggle but I work hard to get on the other side of the pain.
In their own ways, these incredible people found an inner strength that allowed them to overcome their tragedy and gave them the will to carry on and slowly rebuild their lives. Their message to all of us: you must keep your heart open to love, for life can be profound in ways you can never imagine.