Visiting the national 9/11 memorial

One of several 9/11 memorial images visitors see as they walk the long path to the entrance

My daughter Lizabeth, a college freshman studying acting at Pace University, called home shortly after she’d visited the newly-opened 9/11 memorial with a group of fellow students. It was clear she’d been teary-eyed – genuinely moved by the enormous losses of that day.

It’s hard to grasp all that is “Ground Zero” until you see it with your own eyes, and those of us who didn’t lose a loved one will never truly understand the depth of grief wrought by the terrorist attacks of that day. But we can honor those lost with a simple act – remembering.

Knowing that I’ve long followed events surrounding development of the 9/11 memorial and museum, Lizabeth took her camera along so she could snap a few photos. She quickly decided, however, that taking pictures felt wrong somehow. This is a place where thousands of Americans died. It’s not, she told me, a tourist attraction.

Parents feel especially proud during such moments. I listened intently as Lizabeth described the experience of walking through the memorial grounds. Every turn brings more and more names of people who died that day. And powerful waves of emotion.

View across a 9/11 memorial reflecting pool on Sept. 12, 2011

I thought of Lizabeth as my husband James drove me to the airport last Wednesday morning. As soon as passes to the memorial became available, he thoughtfully reserved a pair so I could experience the site with Lizabeth during my trip to NYC. “Do you think it’s tacky to take photos,” I asked. “No,” he said, “I’m sure lots of people take pictures of the memorial.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” I replied. For once I felt like the lawyer in the family. “Thousands of people died there,” I said. “It’s really a grave site.” He reminded me that people photograph cemeteries all the time. I’m guilty of that myself, of course – but that didn’t make me feel any better about it.

I recalled trips to Washington, D.C. and the many photos I’ve taken at Arlington Memorial Ceremony. Like most people, I photograph the things that have special meaning or the things I most want to remember. For me it’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame marking John F. Kennedy’s grave.

Though I planned to visit the 9/11 memorial with Lizabeth last Friday, I ended up going alone on Thursday night after walking by a memorial gift shop near the site where someone had extra passes for admission that evening. I knew Lizabeth wouldn’t mind me going alone, and I was eager to experience the memorial under a starry sky.

View across a 9/11 memorial reflecting pool towards the 9/11 museum

Somehow the darkness amplifies all that steel and water, with all the trees and all those names — backlit after nightfall. Two names, in particular, stand out — belonging to two women listed with the words “and unborn child.” A pair of tridents from the “twin towers” inside the 9/11 museum are beautifully lit and visible through the transparent walls of the museum, which will open once completed.

I stayed at a hotel adjacent to the World Trade Center construction site — where I started and ended each day with time spent watching the work in progress that holds such significance for our nation. Giant cranes moving back and forth. Workers in orange and yellow vests dotting the sight both day and night.

A steady stream of patriotic pilgrims head to the site and surrounding areas each day — negotiating crowded streets with everyday New Yorkers bustling between home, office and other haunts. For all the deaths wrought that terrible day ten Septembers ago, this is a place full of life and focused on the future.

— Lynn

Note: Several Arizona cities, including Gilbert and Phoenix, have their own 9/11 memorials. Click here to see images from the National 9/11 Memorial webcam, and here to learn more about the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

Coming up: Exploring memorials at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix

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