Remembering 9/11: Freedom Stands Tall
Remembering 9/11: Freedom Stands Tall
Music, voices, names projected on walls of those lost on that day, now almost 16 years later.
On September 11, 2001 our hearts broke as we watched all of the events of that day unfold. I still remember the crackling of my dad’s voice as we watched in disbelief, together, as the second tower crumbled to the ground. As New Yorkers, a big part of all of us died that day. Our spirit, our souls, our resolve.
I visited the Twin Towers when I was a little girl. My uncle (who had acrophobia) worked on the 95th floor. My mom and I would join him for lunch in the work cafeteria after which, he would go back to his cubicle that was not near a window. At that point, we didn’t know years later, after his passing, his son (my cousin Joe), would be part of the FDNY rescue efforts at 1 and 2 World Trade Center.
I wanted to make it back to New York ever since 2011 when we moved back to Stateside from Japan. Last year, while visiting my family, Joe opened up about the weeks on end that he and his colleagues climbed through rubble to get to a hole in the ground. They went through that hole to get to more rubble and what is called “the bathtub” to search for life amongst the twisted metal, a charred fire engine, toxic fumes and ash. He saw the “slurry wall” for weeks on end in those rescue efforts.
My mother and I made the pilgrimage to downtown on a sunny 80-degree October day last year. Upon entering, the memorial, by far, was the quietest place in all of New York City. The silence intensified as we entered and descended down a large escalator into “the bathtub”:
We were reminded of names of those lost on that day:
We saw the engine my cousin spoke of:
And the marvel of engineering known as the “bathtub” or “slurry” wall holding back the Hudson River:
The broken pieces of the tower’s antenna, the photos of the jumpers, the structural pieces of the building that were restored to illustrate the scope of destruction were all solemn reminders. It was in the audio gallery of goodbye phone calls and after hearing Flight 93 attendant, CeeCee Lyles’ last call that I lost it:
As a spouse to a man who eats, sleeps and breathes aviation, who would never want to be stuck behind a desk, this hit me hard. The calm in Lyles’ voice paired with the finality of a “goodbye” and a sadness of not being able to deliver passengers to loved ones shook me to the core. As we continued through the memorial, we came upon the section that profiled the terrorists. I found my son looking intently at the photos of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. He does not remember our visit to Gitmo to “visit Daddy” when my husband was active duty and on an Individual Augment (IA) billet in the Marine Corps that sent him to Cuba for 6 months. He does not remember, as an 11-month-old baby, eating lunch in the cafeteria in what could have been very close proximity to these very men in these photos. As he continued to look and read the captions, I could tell he, at that point, understood why his dad did what he did as a Marine and for a while, a retired civilian contractor in the Middle East. It all came together for him that day.
The deeper we went into the memorial, the quieter it got. As we ascended up the escalator and out of “the bathtub” amidst the silence, we came upon a fountain and the sight of Freedom Tower reaching up to the Heavens on a clear New York Day:
Despite the heaviness of the 9/11 Memorial, looking to the sky gave Mom and me a sense of hope, pride and reverence. The kind of hope that we’re now told, on a daily basis, that we shouldn’t have. The pride that we’re also told, on a daily basis, that we have no business possessing. The reverence that, for some, has fallen by the wayside as they get down on one knee instead of placing their hand on their hearts. The photos, the phone calls, the sentiments, the sheer destruction of 9/11 all brought us great sadness but there’s nothing like a towering, beautiful building, its windows glistening in the sunshine, to give us hope, pride, reverence and an in-your-face reminder to those who tried to destroy us of what we stand for. To tell us to rebuild. To persist. To not compromise. To be proud of who we are. To Never Forget and to Stand Tall. As we cut through the noise and fade to silence, we realize this is us. We are America.