. . . I find myself standing in Manhattan on Church Street between Liberty and Vesey Streets. We parked about 5 blocks away, on Murray. We walked down the very streets that the people on television ran down – – screaming, frightened.
Somehow, being there, even three years later – made it more real. My first impression was how amazingly clean everything was. Not sure what I was expecting, really – three years later. In many ways, it feels like it just happened. Maybe it’s because I’m so far removed from the site, here in Wisconsin, and the images that I keep seeing – over and over, on the television, in the newspapers and in my mind – are the images of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
We had spent the day in noisy, busy, hectic New York City. Started the day on the upper East Side and made our way into Chinatown for lunch and shopping. The weather was great — the food was incredible, and the city was it’s normal, noisy self.
Except at the World Trade Center site. We rounded the corner and the hush startled me, really. It became cathedral quiet. The train station had re-opened that week – – but even the people making the descent down the stairs into the station were quiet.
The view was tremendously overwhelming. Just a huge fenced in area surrounding the big hole in the ground. We slowly walked the length of the sidewalk. The fence in front of the area held pictures of the events of 9/11. There were flowers stuck in the fence, everywhere – – even though there were signs posted that prohibited any kind of mementos or objects being placed on the fence.
There were quite a lot of people making the walk down that side walk. I wondered if I was the only one seeing it for the first time? Although, I would imagine that many people come from all over to view the site.
A thought that bothered me and I’m still trying to process: small groups of Arab Americans posing in front of the site and having pictures taken of themselves, smiling in front of Ground Zero. My immediate impression was that it was a victory pose, with those wide grins on their faces. It bothered me that they were smiling.
It bothered me that it bothered me. Will think on that one for a time.
I was doing . . . . o.k. walking down that sidewalk. I felt very overwhelmed, somber and very sad. My eyes misted over, but I was holding it together. I felt very foolish standing in New York City, three years later, on the verge of tears. I was holding it together pretty well, for a rural Midwesterner.
That is, until that guy and his flute.
I’m standing right in front of the fence with my nose pressed against it. Quietly remembering everything from that day – – thinking of all those people….thinking about how overwhelming it was to be standing there – – trying not to think of what may have happened in the very spot I was standing. Amazed at how much more real the whole war on terrorism had become to me in those isolated moments that I stood at that fence.
I was holding it together. I wasn’t going to cry in the middle of New York City. Except there was this older gentleman sitting on the sidewalk. I was still standing with my nose pressed against the fence – – looking, remembering . . . when this gentleman started. Amid the silence on the street came this beautiful sound of his flute, that broke through the quietness – – the gentleman began to play “America, The Beautiful” on his flute.
Well, after the first two or three notes – – I was gone. I broke down and the tears began to flow. Chris put his arm around me and I just kind of nuzzled my face in his coat until the moment passed. For all those people, their families, friends – – for my country and it’s loss . . . for the way our world has changed so much in the past three years . . . for the ensuing partisan pettiness…the sadness, the anger, the fear and frustration.
It was truly an awesome and humbling experience. As we walked away, I looked at Chris and told him we needed to come back . . . soon. We needed to bring the kids with us – – this is very important to me. They need to see this place – – they need to see it before it’s rebuilt. Before all the glitzy memorials and shops . . . before they cover it up with a new growth and a new outlook.
While it’s still an empty hole in the ground. While the earth movers are still there – – while the men and women in yellow hard hats are still working in the deep crevices of Ground Zero. We need to bring the kids back by Spring, I told him.
It’s too important to miss.
(Update – – Vinnie has pics from his visit to Ground Zero, the day after Thanksgiving. He was there the day before we were. Thank you, Vinnie, for sharing your pics.)