Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11 Memorials

Last summer, when I was in New York on business, I took a free morning to go to the 9/11 museum.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd seen the World Trade towers, many times, but never been inside them. I'd wanted to see Ground Zero but never got the chance. The whole area is still under reconstruction, but the memorial and museum sit tranquilly in the middle of the bustle.

The memorial has so many names. I've been to the American cemetery that overlooks Omaha beach, where the D-Day landings took place. They have a wall there with more names than the 9/11 memorial, strictly of those presumed dead in the D-Day landings whose bodies were never recovered. The recovered dead are buried in strict military rows. What shook me about the 9/11 memorial was the realization that none of the dead named there were soldiers. They were ordinary people. I saw one name that included "and her unborn child."

The museum is entirely underground, in the concrete foundations of one of the buildings. It's very well done. Many of the more difficult aspects of the day--including answering machine message left by people on the doomed airplanes, and videos of people who jumped from the tops of the buildings--are secluded in side alcoves, clearly marked by warnings of what's inside. You can decide how much you can bear to know. I liked that.

(Burn or jump? I'm afraid of heights; I can not imagine flinging myself into open air. On the other hand, perhaps it felt more merciful. I hope I'll never know.)

I wasn't aware before I went to the museum just how much debris fell from the fractured buildings while they still stood. An airplane engine. Thousands and thousands of pieces of paper. Window glass. I didn't realize how harrowing it was for the survivors, as they poured out onto streets littered with debris, more falling from the sky.

Fourteen years ago, on 9/11/2001, I happened to take one of my dear friends to the airport in Bristol. She was returning home to California after visiting me. I walked with her to the gate, as you could back then, and sat until the plane she was to take to Chicago landed in Bristol and its passengers disembarked. "Well, everything looks good," I said, giving her a hug. "I guess I'll go."

An airport employee came into the building and looked around at the people at the gate. He said, "Did you all hear what just happened in New York?"

We didn't have smart phones. There weren't televisions at the gate. No one had heard anything. I thought, "New York? What could happen in New York that would actually matter in Bristol?"

Sam and I got back to my house just in time to turn on the television and watch the second tower fall.