Like many Americans, images from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, are seered into my soul. Until my recent trip to New York City, I continued to picture Ground Zero as a giant hole in the ground, as a place of emptiness. But when I went to see the site, that image I carry with me wasn’t there. Instead, I found patriotism and pedestrians.
The area surrounding Ground Zero in lower Manhattan is teeming with people walking streets full of construction crews and their equipment. Business folk scurrying to and from work, tourists pausing to snap photos and young parents pushing strollers.
Those who come to remember 9/11 have several options — including the World Trade Center Tribute Center and the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, where I spent some time during my recent visit. The preview center was packed with people, many standing quiet and still — almost frozen in time as they must have been the day many of us watched events unfolding on our television screens.
They were reading a timeline of 9/11 events that wraps around the top of the walls, watching video tape accounts of heroism, pausing to reflect over items like the shiny black shoes and crisp white hat that belonged to one of the firefighters who lost his life that day.
The completed museum will feature a memorial exhibit commemorating the lives of those who perished on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993 and will provide visitors with the opportunity to learn about the men, women and children who died.
The 9/11 Memorial Preview Site has a retail area where visitors can buy T-shirts, toys, books and more — many with an NYPD or FDNY theme. Even gold and silver leaves representing the 400 trees to be planted at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I came home with several bookmarks and wristbands, plus information on how to purchase a cobblestone or paver for the memorial plaza.
But I came home with something more. A new image of America in the aftermath of 9/11. The hole in our collective soul is mending. The patriotism and pedestrians at Ground Zero affirm that, though we will never forget, we are forging a future fueled by freedom rather than fear.
Note: Click here for tips on talking with your children about 9/11
Coming up: Finding Frida, New Works Festival, Art meets All-Star Baseball
Update: The 9/11 Memorial is now open to the public (online reservations required) — the museum is still being completed.