Guest In My Own Town: Revisiting 9/11

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“Sometimes it takes seeing your hometown–especially when its a big bustling metropolis like New York City–in the eyes of someone not from there to show you the wonderful things you take for granted.”

At least, that’s the case with me.

My pal Orlando was visiting  me from Indianapolis this past July 4th weekend and as usual with him, he wanted to know and explore everything about NYC; where’s the best place to get a bagel; who’ll be voted in as next mayor; did you get caught in Supestorm Sandy; where do we go for the best pastrami 0n rye sandwich; where’s that place in Harlem where I heard you can buy a dashiki; is the Statue of Liberty easy to get to; what’s the next stop on this train; is that what the girls will be wearing this summer: shorts that look like panties; ever ate at this restaurant  before; are we going to see the fireworks tonight? I’d have to goggle most things of course, but I secretly admit to myself that his excitement gets me excited about this old town. My grind is usually wake up at 6am, go to work, come home, eat dinner, turn on the tv for some white noise as I work on my computer, then promptly in  bed by 2am (lol!).

I usually oblige my friend of everything but the one area I wasn’t at all comfortable or even wanted to go to was the World Trade Center memorial.  Orlando is a middle school history teacher and he wanted to see the new buildings  and the September 11 memorial to incorporate in a lesson for his students. All I knew about the memorial was that it had a water feature. That was it. I never really thought to go there either. I know of only two people who were at WTC who survived 9/11, and only one of them personally. I, like many New Yorkers. have let that event slip into my deep subconscious where all the other ugly, frightening memories wind up to be hashed out in my later, more reflective senior years. Or by a psychiatrist.

When I tell you that the moment I walked onto the concrete promenade of the site I was struck by the feeling of it being sacred ground, I kid you not.  The feeling stayed with me the whole time I was there. With still plenty of construction going on in gated areas around the park, I still zeroed in on the sound of cascading water in an open area. We walked in the direction of signs that pointed towards the memorial which I was surprised to see was a gargantuan square hole dropped down several feet into the ground with sheets of water falling into it from all four sides.

The water pooled like shimmering glass on the floor of the well, then flowed into a square canyon in the middle. From any angle that you stood around the monument you couldn’t see the bottom of that middle canyon, giving you the impression that it was endless.

Mixed emotions of grief, mourning, endings and new beginnings flooded over me as I stood mesmerized by the simple cyclical process of the water. I thought about the cleansing effect of water, the cool smoothness of the dark granite base as the water rushed over it, the endless cascade of water — like tears — and the bottomless well that would never be filled no matter how much water flowed into it.

I thought about Life and Death as this never-ending cycle and how the two things are what unites everyone and everything on this planet.

And I thought about how little we really know about anything.

The names of the hundreds of victims of 9/11 who died at the WTC are engraved into the surrounding wide metallic railing and people took to sticking small American flags into the crevices. There was also a twin monument yards away on the other end of the promenade as were short backless concrete benches scattered all around. The site was still incomplete, but you can see that it will be beautifully serene when it’s completed. It was good for my soul to see something beautiful emerge from something so horrid. My only regret was that we couldn’t stay to see the monuments lit up at nightfall, but my friend had other parts of my great town that he wanted me to see.

He was always good like that.

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Amy Conton is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in New York, USA.

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