Visiting Ground Zero: An Experience You Will Never ForgetFebruary 21, 2011 No Comments
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have become one of our nation’s defining moments. Who doesn’t remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first learned of the attacks? I was at my parents’ house, sleeping off a party the night before.
On the evening of September 10, 2001, a friend flew home to Florida after spending the summer in California. A large group of us went to the airport to pick her up…10 friends in our 20s, mostly gothic/punk in appearance, laughing and joking as we made our way to her gate. Lots of other families and friends were there, all meeting loved ones on that late night cross-country flight. We gathered back at my parents’ house, along with other friends who had to work late, for a welcome home party. Several of us were still asleep on the living room floor when my dad woke us with a statement I will never forget. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center. They’re saying it might be terrorism.”
For the rest of the day and well into the evening, we all gathered around the television in my parents’ bedroom. No one wanted to go home. Most of us worked at Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. The rumors were flying that the theme parks might be hit next. Along with the rest of the world, we watched and waited, acutely aware that life would never be the same again.
We were the lucky ones. We had a few acquaintances living in New York City, but no one that would have been anywhere near the Twin Towers on that fateful morning. Our closest contact was my mom’s coworker’s sister, who had originally planned to fly into New York that morning but had changed her plans more than a week before. Nonetheless, the attacks had a profound effect on me. I wanted to visit Ground Zero and pay my respects once it was safe to do so.
As so often happens, life got in the way. But when Dad and I had the opportunity to take a Canada and New England cruise out of New York Harbor in 2008, we jumped at the chance. After the cruise, we spent a few days at a youth hostel in Manhattan, just off Central Park. During that stay, we finally made it to Ground Zero.
Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. We had looked at photos online and basically knew what to expect. But actually being there was more raw and more painful than I could have possibly predicted. There was a reasonably-priced memorial museum nearby, but with limited time we decided to forgo it. Instead, we took the pedestrian walkway over the site.
It’s a little bit difficult to see clearly from the walkway, due to fences and rails. Dad kept sticking the camera into gaps in the fence, and we probably got our clearest view from the resulting photos. But it didn’t matter. The thoughts and feelings that we experienced were monumental, and frankly overwhelming. All around us were others doing the same thing we were–walking slowly, taking pictures and stopping to speak quietly with one another or have a silent moment of reflection. There were tears all around.
I kept thinking about how I never made it to the World Trade Center when it was still standing. My family had been to Manhattan once before, when we stopped for a few days on our way upstate for Woodstock ’94. But we had so many things on our to-do list, and such limited time. We decided to save the WTC for “next time.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this would be the “next time.”
There was a flurry of activity going on at the site, and I’ve heard New Yorkers say that all the construction is a major relief, that it feels like hope and renewal. I can certainly understand that, for those that have been around the site a lot. But to me, it all just felt so sad. All the terrible images I saw on TV in the hours and days following the attacks came rushing back and I felt awful for the families that were left behind.
Soon we had made it across the pedestrian walkway. Dad and I were both uncharacteristically quiet, still in a bit of a stupor from what we had seen. Slowly we made our way down to the waterfront, where we had an excellent dinner at an outdoor café and watched the sun set over the harbor. It was a lovely ending to an emotionally trying day.
Tips for Parents
As we close in on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, many of you may have kids who were not yet born when the attacks occurred, or were too young to remember. But like all dark points in human history, it is crucial that we share our memories with our own children in hopes that history will never repeat itself.
Prepare your children for the visit by explaining the events of September 11th in terms that they can understand. Excellent resources are available on the ClassBrain website. Remember that your kids do not remember the World Trade Center or life before 9/11, so you may need to provide some historical context.
Don’t make Ground Zero your first stop in Manhattan. It would be easy for your kids to formulate an association between Manhattan and tragedy, so take them to make some positive memories first.
Be prepared for questions at the site, although they may not be the ones that you expect. While you may associate Ground Zero with the feelings that you experienced during the attacks, kids don’t have the same context. They may see it as a busy, interesting construction site and be more interested in what is coming next than in what happened.
Consider visiting the World Trade Center museum. Although we have not seen it, I understand that the collection of exhibits is geared to visitors of all ages. It may help to further explain the events of that day to younger kids.
Do something nice for your family when you are finished at the site. Have a relaxing dinner, take in a movie or Broadway show, or visit some of the massive shops along Times Square. Whatever you choose, take the time to relax and shift gears before heading back to your hotel.