The World Trade Center Rises from the Ashes

The last time I walked by ground zero it was nothing but a noisy pit of rubble and bulldozers. For a long time it seemed that was all it would ever be, which is why I was so excited to visit the National September 11 Memorial and the new World Trade Center under construction. Visiting felt like a resolution to the last 11 years of hurt and strife and crazy.

Visiting also felt like an ordeal. We had to reserve tickets online ahead of time, pick them up from a special visitors center then walk a few blocks over to the entrance. Then we had to wait in line and go through extensive security before we could enter the memorial (this is all due to the construction that is still going on, once the whole complex is finished visitors will be able to wander freely).

On September 11, 2001 I was a junior in high school. Washington-Lee High was in Arlington, Virginia, roughly five miles from the Pentagon. As I sat in second period math class and watched the carnage unfold, culminating in the twin towers collapsing, I’m not sure I fully grasped the enormity of what was happening. I was more concerned with the immediate- my very home town was under attack. This was of course true for millions of New Yorkers as well.

It’s still hard to wrap my brain around it. The memorial consists of two giant square fountains,each about an acre wide. Instead of shooting upwards, the water falls down, down into a deep dark, bottomless hole. They were peaceful but also sad. When I realized that these two fountains sat in the actual outlines of the original towers it felt like a punch in the gut.

Around the fountains are inscribed the names of all of the victims and rescuers who perished on 9-11. It’s a lot of names. I found the corner dedicated to the Pentagon, small compared to the big picture but still significant.

I didn’t know anyone who died at the Pentagon, but I still felt a connection with them. I remember seeing the smoking crater in the side of the enormous building- it stayed that way for months and every time I passed the scar it felt like a blow. I wonder if it was the same in New York, if for 10 years people felt the absence and empty space where the ground zero lay.

As a traveler, I think that public spaces play a big deal in the feel and atmosphere of a place. Every time I pass the Pentagon, now pristine as it ever was, I still remember, but the wounds are healing. Looking at the new World Trade Centers (3 skyscrapers and 1 World Trade Center which will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere) going up feels like the city itself is physically healing.

I got unexpectedly emotional as we prepared to leave. Being there felt really powerful, not just because so many people died in that spot, but because of how hard people were working to rebuild.

10 thoughts on “The World Trade Center Rises from the Ashes”

  1. Just got back from NYC last month and it was near completion. Glad to see the area being rebuilt. The fountain is just beautiful! RIP to all those who were lost 🙁

  2. I was there around 3 years ago, and it wasn’t quite done, it was all still closed off as the work was still going on. But you could feel the emotion even though we were not able to see anything – it was simply in the air around us

  3. When I got home in March my first stop in NYC was to the memorial. I too felt a rush of emotions upon visiting. We were so young that I think even a decade on it is hard to see the enormous impact that one day made on our society. Anyway, I’m glad the memorial is now underway and we will soon have a place to remember and reflect.

  4. I was a senior in college, and I was home because I had classes later in the day. My roommate came home early and said “I think we’re being attacked” and we spent the rest of the day in front of the TV. Odd the things you remember. I remember the restaurant we went for dinner because we didn’t want to cook and felt like being around other people. No one in the restaurant was even talking, we were all college students, still glued to the TVs trying to take it all in. Still makes me cry reading this post and thinking about what happened that day.

  5. Wow, amazing. 9/11 was my 7th birthday and I was sitting on the floor in my first grade classroom as our teacher told us that “something bad had happened in New York and we might hear the big kids talking about it but we were safe”, followed by the principal of the school coming over the loudspeaker to say that all TVs should be turned off. I didn’t know anyone who died on that day but it’s still such an emotional day – even now I feel a certain amount of guilt celebrating my birthday on that day. But, as you said, the country is healing and we will continue to move forward as we still take the time to remember.

  6. Same here, I remember the it all so well, as if it was yesterday.
    I came out of my UK school, popped on my radio & walked home – noone on the radio was talking about it (the first plane had only just hit).
    I got home & within seconds my phone was ringing. It was one of my best friends:
    ‘Turn on the TV! Just turn it on!’. So I did. Then everything happened.

    Since that day & since hearing about the plans for the fountains, I’ve really wanted to go. Just to pay my respects & keep the memories fresh so that I learn from it, and it’s never forgotten. People need to learn from history to prevent replication.

  7. I lived in CT at the time but now live in NYC and frequently walk by the World Trade Center site. I often find myself wondering if New Yorkers I meet were here 11 years ago – if they lived downtown, if they saw the smoke, if they knew anyone in those buildings. I can’t imagine. Its great visiting the new site now and seeing the strength of this incredible city. thanks for posting!

  8. I remember where I was, too – I was in year 10 and heard the news in English class, where there was one American boy, Loren, and everyone just focused on him for a reaction.

    It’s just over 7 years since the terrorist attacks in London too, and that felt like a punch in the gut like you say here (even though it’s not my hometown).

    Thanks for posting, Steph. I’ll more than likely visit when I head to New York next year. The fountains look beautiful, if sad like you say, with the hole in the middle.

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