(continuing from Part 1)
I was 8 years old when 19 cowardice people decided to change the world forever. I remember sitting downstairs watching SpongeBob before heading to one of my weeks of third grade at a new school. Suddenly, my dad came down the stairs. He took away the remote and turned on the news to view a tower billowing with smoke. I did not understand what was happened at that exact moment, but throughout the many years since that day, I have learned a great deal. It is hard for me to explain why I feel so connected to this tragedy. Before I met Alex, I knew no one nor was I connected to anyone who had any personal connection the 9/11 attacks, but it is one of the few events that sets off an array of emotions for me. There is obvious anger and hate. It makes me happy and appreciative to see all the selfless people, risking their own lives to help their fellow people. A sense of pride and patriotism overcomes me, along with deep, drowning moments of sadness. All these emotions swirling, all at one time.
There is a commercial I only ever saw once on TV, showing a city street. The narrator says, "On September 11th, terrorists tried to change America forever." It flashed back to the city street now covered with American flags, as the narrator then says, "They succeeded." The unity of the American people is never stronger than when we are faced with tragedy. On September 11th, we all became patriots.
All of this was replaying in my head as Alex and I walked across West Street to the 9/11 Memorial. We then made our way through security and down the escalators into the museum. Alex graciously offered to give me a personal tour of the museum since Alex volunteers there. As a side bar to any future visitors, be sure to go on tour with a guide and walk up to the volunteers at each artifact; you will not regret it! Their stories are unforgettable and their heroism is something to idolize.
As we walked through the museum, Alex explained all the artifacts and recounted funny stories about friends whose belongings are now encased in glass. We saw the mangled steel beams that has been hit by the planes. Alex took me past the "survivors' staircase", which served as an escape route for hundreds of evacuees from 5 World Trade Center. There is a large unmistakable wall, full of 2,983 tiles. Each tile is a different shade of blue, which was inspired by the clear, intensely blue sky of that fateful morning. "No day shall erase you from the memory of time," a quote by Virgil’s Aeneid, lies in the middle of the blue wall. One of the amazing things about the museum is that it is completely underground. As you walk into the two main exhibits, located under the reflecting pools which now take the place of the towers, you can see the original footprints of the building. It's incredible to see the base level, 70 feet below the surface, where the steel beams once held up the Twin Towers.
There are two main exhibits at the museum which are directly under the reflecting pools. These two areas were the most emotional areas in the museum itself. The first is in the South Tower footprint. The gallery displays portraits of all 2,983 people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 and February 26th, 1993. They are arranged in 250 columns and 12 rows. When I first walked into the room with Alex, my initial reaction was to smile. It is a huge collage of colorful, smiling faces. There are photos of people on their wedding day, on vacation, and with their family. They are laughing, smiling and enjoying life. It took me a few moments for the happiness to wash away, and come to the realization that all these happy, innocent people had been murdered. I slowly walked around the room as Alex pointed out friends and colleagues.
The second room is in the footprint of the North Tower. This is where the majority of the artifacts are. I went in alone, as Alex has only ever been in the room a handful of times. By the end of the exhibit, I knew why. The first portion of the exhibit is a play-by-play of the events of September 11th, 2001. Along with hundreds of artifacts from the day, you see original breaking news coverage of the attacks, radio transmissions from first responders, mayday calls and photographs of the falling. The worst part of this exhibit for me was the "flight rooms", which followed each flight from the departure of the airport to the plane's demise. I listened to voicemails passengers left for their families. I listened to the terrorists commanding orders. I listened to the passengers slowly become more frightened as the plane went down. It was heartbreaking, and at moments I had to step away from the room to regain my composure. I left the exhibit feeling humbled. When I found Alex again, the first question that was asked was, "how was it?" This was the only time in my life I can remember being completely speechless. I had no words; all I wanted to do was cry. Alex and I spoke for another few minutes. I thanked Alex wholeheartedly before I headed up the Memorial.
One of the things Alex told me before we arrived at the Memorial and Museum was to watch the people. Since many victims were never found, Alex says the Memorial is a cemetery. It is not a place for selfies, nonsense or disrespect of any kind. So, the first thing I noticed was the millennials taking selfies, laughing and obviously not connecting to the incident. I, on the other hand, kept looking up to the void in the sky where the towers would be if they stood today. It's obvious to those who look. While in Manhattan you are surrounded by towering buildings in every direction, but here at the Memorial, there is emptiness. I walked 100% around both reflecting pools, listening to the strong waterfalls crashing 30 feet below, looking at the names around the pools. While walking around the South Tower footprint, I saw an older couple starring at a name. The woman brushed her hand across the engraving, looked to her husband with tears in her eyes, and said, "I've been here so many times, but it never gets any easier." That about summed up my day.