Visiting the National September 11 Memorial was going to be difficult, but I knew I had to go there while I was in New York City.
Many of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I was working part-time as a secretary in the English Department at the University of Florida in Gainesville. I was a freshman. I was in the office and one of the women that also worked there was listening to her desk radio. Suddenly she was turning up the volume and saying, “Oh my God.”
I have to admit, I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was. Was it an important building? Were there a lot of people there? But the women around me knew. I could tell by their faces. Then the second plane hit the south tower. Then the third plane hit the Pentagon. And then the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
They were saying over the radio that it was an attack; that possibly all major cities were being targeted. At that point I was sent home with my head reeling and trying to understand the gravity of the situation. Miami was a major city! What if something was happening back home? I rushed to the nearest pay phone to call my family and boyfriend, not wanting to wait until I got home. None of the calls went through. Everyone was trying to call their loved ones and I’m sure the lines were jammed.
Over the next few weeks, we were bombarded with the images of the attacks and who was responsible for them. But it wasn’t until years later that I really understood just how severe the attack was. But at the same time, I didn’t understand everything. And I don’t think I ever will. How could someone, anyone, do something so horrible? How could someone willingly cause so much chaos, pain, and destruction?
On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, I sat on the couch watching the commemoration ceremony on TV as victims’ names were read by their families. I was sobbing, my heart hurting for the victims and their loved ones.
All of those feelings rushed back as I first walked up to the September 11 Memorial’s twin reflecting pools on that cold January morning. I touched some of the inscribed names of the 2,983 victims. And again I cried.
Eventually we made our way to the museum. The artifacts and exhibits inside were really exceptional and I learned even more about both the events and the victims of the attack. It was hard to read some of the witnesses’ accounts and see some of the video footage, but there were strategically placed tissue boxes that were very much appreciated.
Like I said, it’s hard for me to grasp the kind of evil that took place on September 11th. But what is much easier to understand is the selflessness, strength, human spirit, and resilience that brought together complete strangers after the attacks. Our country was left staggering, but we pulled ourselves up.
Visiting the September 11 Memorial was something I’ll never forget, and although it can be an emotional experience, I would recommend it to anyone traveling to New York City.
Have you been to the September 11 Memorial? What were your thoughts?