24 November 2013

2013 NYC by Train 12 - Remembering 9-11

Got a 10am start. Stopped at the front desk for best directions to the World Trade Center and 9-11 Memorial. This is on the southwest end of Manhattan and we are in mid-Manhattan, so we needed the subway to get there. They suggested the E route, which we could catch on 44th and 8th Ave.

Had breakfast at The Red Flame again, easy and cheap. We were seated in our same 2-person cubby hole booth by the kitchen window. Still fascinated by the ordering process. Mike got a bagel with lox and cream cheese. He fell in love with NYC bagels. They say it is the good NYC water that makes them perfectly chewy on the inside and "leathery" (in a good way leathery) on the outside. I had my usual artichoke and swiss omelette. And lots of good coffee with lots of real cream.

After breakie, we walked the few blocks to the subway station and boarded the E train. It was a mildly drizzly rainy day. We didn't need bumbershoots, but stepped quickly between the droplets. When we got to the station we noticed American flags displayed on each subway car on this route... a continuing reminder of the patriotism of this city and its ability to overcome difficult struggles.

As we de-trained, we found the subway station under construction. Upon emerging up into daylight again, we found construction surrounding us. We were puzzled as to which direction to turn until we noticed the WTC Path signs. They led us to the storefront reception center for the Memorial.

Here we saw a few mementos of that horrific day in 2001. Entry tickets to the Memorial were also available. They were free, but if you contributed $10 to the 9-11 fund, you received a white rubber wristband with blue letters saying 9-11 Memorial. Of course, we bought two. A small price to pay.

They gave use directions to the Memorial entrance which took us past St. Paul's Chapel. It was built in 1766 and is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan. It ruggedly stood though the 9-11 blasts just a short distance away and was a haven for NYPD, FDNY and others in their efforts to find survivors and help the wounded of 9-11.

A venerable graveyard surrounds the church. It was impressive in itself--shady, green, peaceful in the whispering rain. Old gravestones and sarcophagi filled the front and side yards. Their engraved death years reached back to the stalwart beginnings of our country. We did not see any names we recognized, but Wiki says George Washington and other members of Congress attended services here.
Inside was understated. Just a few chairs faced a simple alter and high pulpit. A small bit of religious pageantry was displayed, along with memorial plaques of those interred in the walls of the chapel. It felt spiritual, but non-denominational.

But surrounding this seating was something we did not expect. Remnants of the aid and assistance provided by the chapel in the aftermath of 9-11. There were mattresses on the floor covered with knitted and handmade quilts and a multitude of stuffed animals. These things to give comfort to the body, head, and heart of each who sought refuge during these trying times after a long day of toil through the rubble and ruin.

There were hundreds of colorful post-it notes, written by those seeking to find family and friends or offering hope. There was a pile of embroidered police and firefighter arm patches from all over the world. Some from those killed in the line of duty. Others just left behind when officers returned to their home towns after the brunt of the initial struggling days.

There were soot covered and tattered helmets and uniforms. There were scarves that were used to cover mouths and noses from the smoke and  pungent air of those fallen. There were random pieces of metal inadvertently shaped like a cross. There were rosary beads and paper cut-outs of children's hands with hopeful messages written on them. There were a bevy of colorful origami peace cranes folded in a frenzy of hopefulness.

This place and its stop action moment in time stirred up a soup of raw emotions. Patriotism, sorrow, sentiment, helplessness, anger, faith, conviction, overwhelming-ness, hope. I was pretty exhausted when we left, but there was more to come.

For more info, see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Paul's_Chapel .

We continued on our way to the 6-acre Memorial Plaza. This Memorial commemorates and honors the nearly 3,000 people killed on 9-11-2001, as well as six killed in the attack on the WTC in 1993. I'm sure on most days there are longer lines, but today it was raining. That seemed appropriate, as though the sky was releasing its tears of grief and melancholy. We were not bothered by the rain.

Lines were long enough though and we waited a bit to get in. We proceeded through an airport-type security check and snaked around the covered walkway for about 10 minutes. When we entered the grounds and were able to walk freely. It was a quiet and respectful atmosphere.

We were drawn immediately to the two black granite waterfall-pools. These lay within the "footprints" where the WTC Twin Towers once stood and collapsed on 9-11. Michael Arad, a NYC Housing Authority architect, is the person who conceived of the design titled "Reflecting Absence" and that is thoughtful in itself. Each pool is about one acre in size and represents the physical void left by the terrorist attacks.

The topmost level of the memorial stands about about waist high. Along its parapet walls are 76 bronze plaques listing 2,983 victim names. These names not only include those from the two NYC Twin Tower air attacks, but also those from the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA air attacks and from the 1993 WTC bombing attack.

There is a register to find the location of a particular name, but they are arranged in groups relating to the time and place and meaningful relationships of their death. The company they worked for, affiliations (such as FDNY), and relative requests were all taken into consideration as to the positioning of the names. A few names had white roses lying upon them. I don't know if these were layed out randomly by the caretakers of this site or by friends or relatives, but it made you stop a little longer and read the name of that person and wonder about their lives and the lives of their families today. These simple little white roses are what brought the tears finally to stream down my cheek.

There is a 30 foot waterfall drop from the parapet down into the first level of the pools. Beyond that there is a wide reflecting pond and a final drop into a smaller central square. From the side you cannot see where the water hits bottom below you or where the water ultimately ends in the shaft of the center square. To me it brought mixed feelings of fear of the unknown and of everlasting "something."

With the rain coming down from the skies into the lowest depths of this pool, it felt like tears from Valhalla trickling through the layers of human existence into an unknown, but hopeful destiny in the circle of life. Certainly each person's destiny may be different based on their personal beliefs. But it is an amazing homage to all those every day people and public servants to be remembered.

The 9-11 Museum was not completed, so we meandered toward the exit.  Police were patrolling with their K-9 companions. Children were playing in rain filled puddles, oblivious to the meaning of this place. It was nice to hear their laughs within the surrounding silence.

We passed under an urban forest of swamp white oaks which were chosen for the site for their shade, durability and leaf color. One particular tree stood out among them because it was supported by wire cables. It was smaller and I knew there must be something special about it.

Later I read that this Callery Pear tree became known as the Survivor Tree after being damaged but living through the 9-11 attack. It was originally planted in the 1970s. During early smoldering rubble removal, the 8-foot tall tree was discovered with fire-blackened trunk and lifeless limbs. It was taken to the Parks Department in the Bronx, nursed back to health, returned to this site, and now proudly stands 30-feel high. The Survivor Tree name tells its story.

Upon exiting the Memorial we passed by a gift shop. We peeked in the windows, but declined to enter. I'm sure we could have purchased a memorial piece of the towers, but we had our simple 9-11 rubber wrist bands and that was enough to memorialize our visit.

As we looked to our right we spied the new and rising One World Trade Center. It is the primary building of the new Trade Center Complex and destined to be the tallest building in America. Its height is planned to be 1776 feet (year of our nation's birth), with an additional 400 foot light spire. It will be a 104-story super tall skyscraper. Its mirrored windows reflect the heart and soul of NYC and American. Stunning.

For more info, see www.911memorial.org and www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_September_11_Memorial_&_Museum .

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