To Help Us All Remember

Today, the Ohio Statehouse lawn was graced with hundreds of tiny American flags arranged in neat rows.  The Flag Memorial featured 2,977 flags — one for each of the people murdered in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — and were configured to group the flags to reflect the people who were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the downed plane in Pennsylvania.

2,977 flags is a lot of flags, and 2,977 lives was a lot of lives.  It is important for us always to remember that.

A Visit To The 9/11 Memorial

Yesterday we visited the 9/11 Memorial.  It was a moving and sobering reminder of that horrific day.

The Memorial lies at the foot of the Freedom Tower and the other buildings that are being rebuilt on the grounds of the World Trade Center towers.  Although the Memorial is completed, much of the surrounding area is still under construction.

It was a warm, sunny day, and the air was filled with the beeping and buzzing of construction equipment, the drone of heavy trucks, and the shouts of hard hat workers.  For some, the background noise may have detracted from the solemnity of the Memorial itself, but I appreciated the energy and sense of rebuilding that the ongoing construction work reflected.

You get passes for the Memorial on-line.  Admission is free, although donations are encouraged.  You show your pass repeatedly and move through the ubiquitous, airport-like security screening area, then wind your way around a fenced-off construction area until you reach the Memorial grounds.

The Memorial ultimately will consist of a museum — which is unfinished and wasn’t open during our visit — and two large, black, square holes in the ground.  The holes sit on the footprint of the World Trade Center towers and, according to a helpful security guard, are somewhat smaller than the area covered by the actual towers themselves.

The square holes are ringed with ledges, into which the names of those killed on 9/11 are deeply carved.  The victims on Flight 77, for example, appear in one area, the people killed in the World Trade Center in another, and those who died at the Pentagon in yet another.  The appearance and feeling that is created is like that of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Although some might deem the idea of listing the names of the victims to be derivative, I thought it was a simple, and powerful, representation of the devastation wrought by the terrorists’ attack, and the sheer randomness of the event for those who were killed.  Looking at the names also generates an appreciation for America, in all its melting pot glory, for you can find names suggestive of every ethnic group and national origin.

The name-filled ledges surround two vast, square, holes within holes.  Water rushes over the sides of the two large holes, collects at the bottom, and then tumbles into inner holes that are so deep you cannot see the bottom.  The sound of the rushing water is soothing, and when the breeze is blowing it riffles the falling water, as if the spirits of the dead are moving in the cavernous holes.

The two large holes are found in an expansive plaza, with benches and trees in abundance for those who want to sit and reflect on the events of 9/11 or the loss of a loved one.  According to the security guard, one of the trees is a hardy survivor that was uncovered in the twisted rubble of the fallen Towers, nursed back to health, and ultimately replanted at the site.  At the time of our visit a memorial wreath had been laid at the foot of that tree — and I predict that the story of that little tree will make it a popular stop for those who visit the Memorial grounds.

I seem to recall that some people objected to the design of the 9/11 Memorial.  Having visited, I see no reason for any objection.  I expect that many native New Yorkers, and tourists, will want to gaze into those vast black holes, touch the sharply carved names of the dead, feel the mist from the falling waters, and remember.

I Remember

I remember being at my desk when the attorney in the office next door told me that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

I remember when he told me moments later that another plane had crashed into the other tower, and we both realized, with a stunned, sinking feeling, that this must be intentional — and in that dark,  brutal instant, everything changed.

I remember watching the small TV in his office, feeling sick and amazed and helpless as the towers fell, and we heard that the Pentagon was hit, and we learned that another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, and we wondered where else the terrorists might strike.

I remember driving out of an almost deserted downtown Columbus, after the authorities decided it should be evacuated.

I remember feeling immensely relieved when we picked up the boys from school and got them home and felt that everyone in our family was safe.

I remember watching the TV news for hours, flipping from channel to channel, aghast and horrified at the overwhelming death and destruction and devastation, and feeling a surge of red-hot fury upon seeing the scenes of celebration in some parts of the Middle East.

I remember being back at my desk the next day, thinking that it felt unseemly and pointless and somehow disrespectful to the dead to be back at work, like it was just another workday when everyone knew it wasn’t.

I remember feeling proud and encouraged when, days later, I looked up and saw a commercial plane back in the air for the first time in what seemed like forever.

I remember, even though I didn’t live in New York or Washington and none of my friends or family members were involved on that day 10 years ago, because I am an American and I could have been on those planes, or working in those buildings.

I remember, because the memories of that day are still sharp and open and raw, as harsh and bitter and gritty as the billowing clouds of dust that boiled through the streets of New York City in the instants after the stricken towers collapsed.

I remember, because I still feel chilled and enraged when I think about the innocents who were murdered and the lives that were forever changed on that horrific day when madmen decided to attack our nation.

I remember, because I cannot and will not forget.