Last weekend I found myself in Manhattan, covering the March for Our Lives protests—interviewing parents and children that had come to express their concerns about violence in our schools. This Easter weekend, I found myself in the Big Apple again—only this time, I was with my own two children.
We made our way around some of the more touristy spots in Midtown, fighting the elbows of tourists inside Macy’s and in Times Square. They laughed at the Naked Cowboy and now apparently the Naked Cowgirl too — this was my first time spotting her and her well placed guitar—and took their time thumbing through the thousands of colorful pages of fantasy and superheroes at Midtown Comics.
But it was early on a beautiful Saturday morning in lower Manhattan that we would come across the most intriguing stories of superheroes — the ones they learned about inside the 9/11 Memorial.
If you haven’t made it to the memorial yet, I beg of you to find the time to do so. This was my second trip. I also came in the Winter of 2017 with my husband, the first time for the both of us since the museum opened in 2014. Neither of us had been fully ready for the overwhelming emotion that would surface from merely setting foot inside that sacred space.
Now the memorial has not been immune from criticism. I remember reading a piece in the New Yorker, not long after the opening, that spoke to the criticisms:
“The site contains more contradictions, unresolved and perhaps unresolvable, than any other eight acres in Manhattan. A celebration of liberty tightly policed; a cemetery that cowers in the shadow of commerce; an insistence that we are here to remember and an ambition to let us tell you what to recall; the boast that we have completely started over and the promise that we will never forget—visitors experience these things with a free-floating sense of unease. The contradictions are already so evident that they’ve infuriated critics, from right to center to left. The theocrats in First Things deplore the absence of any common patriotic imagery, while Patrick L. Smith, in Salon, asks if those who worked in what was admittedly a center for world trade—global capital—are truly “innocents.” Michael Kimmelman, in the Times, protests the way that the new complex seems to deny the city around it, both by hedging itself off from the streets and street life and by creating that hyper-security mini-state within Manhattan.”
Perhaps some of the criticisms are valid. Maybe I have become far too accustomed to the security, or I think too naively to notice the commerce around the chasm that is meant to commemorate such a great loss. No matter. I am humbled inside the place, knowing I am treading on hallowed ground and knowing that these nearly 17 years later, I still vividly remember.
As we were walking through the museum, I was telling my boys that I audibly gasped when while watching the news, I saw the second plane hit the towers. Most of America was glued to their televisions by that point. None of us could believe what we were seeing. A group of young school aged tourists overheard me and then I could hear one of them tell her friends “Oh that’s so sad, she remembers watching that happen for real.” She was gesturing at the photographs that depicted the plane disappearing inside that beautiful building.
It struck me in that moment, that it has been so long now, many of the people inside that museum don’t remember the way we do— the eerie understanding that the rest of us who were old enough to have seen it unfolding before our eyes do.
By this point, most Americans have some connection to that day. We either survived it, lost someone to it, lost someone to the aftermath of it, or surrendered some of our freedoms in the pursuit of never letting it happen again. But there is something about standing underground, and witnessing the bones of the old Tower 1 and Tower 2, that makes those moments even more powerful—and for the children who weren’t alive to experience it—a way to connect directly to a moment that forever changed the course of our American history.
As we stood in front of the crushed but gloriously resilient truck from Ladder Company 3, we had a long conversation about first responders. I explained to my boys that courage is being afraid and still running towards the danger. We talked about their stepdad’s childhood friend who had lost his life as a firefighter out of the 235 in Bed Stuy. We talked at length about all of the police officers and firefighters and others who had gone in to those buildings as everyone else was desperately trying to get out. My son looked at me and then back at that truck and said “Mama, those are the real superheroes.” Yes they are son, yes they are.
For the rest of the day, when we would see a New York city police officer, he would squeeze my hand and tell me he was surrounded by super heroes. For that reason alone, I say, if you can make your way to New York City, be sure the memorial is on the very top of your list.
Featured Image from the Author