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.