A few weeks ago I traveled to New York City for the first time in my life, and the most memorable site in a city of memorable sights was the National September 11 Memorial. What a beautiful architectural monument of nationally shed tears.
No other monument or memorial in America is as powerful. The hollowed foundational spaces where the World Trade Center towers used to rise above the New York skyline are the perfect symbol of tragedy, loss and remembrance, and they create a hallowed, publicly private space of national consciousness. The names of the dead are immortalized individually, and, like in the Vietnam Memorial, the emotional impact is compounded by the humanistic reality of a complete list of ended existences. There is no artistically abstract abridgment of the people murdered that day.
Everyone else remembers vividly 11 September 2001, and can recall what they were doing as they saw on television videos of planes smashing into America’s soul.
That day I remember my fourth-grade teacher coming into the classroom after recess with tears in her eyes. I did not know why she was crying, and she did not tell us why. I was ten years old, and I assumed her tears must have belonged to a personal, family matter.
The rest of the school day passed with forgettable routine, and the class remained innocently unaware that our nation was currently under attack. I suppose the elementary school had a professional duty to continue educating the suburban community’s children.
When the school bell rang, I walked home through the park stopping to play on the swings. A slow pendulum, I swung back and forth leisurely enjoying the academic freedom of weekday evenings, and unintentionally mimicking the decelerated pulse of our nation’s heart.
When I got home, my mother collected my brothers and I, and we drove to the gas station. We waited in line for half an hour to fill the car’s tank before the next day’s oil prices would reflect the sudden, horrific end of Pax Americana. The September sun was still stagnantly hot, and the families and cars cramming confusedly into the parking lot personified the nation’s daze.
It is odd to see such literary symbolism in my memory, but it perhaps is inevitable with such a historically significant day. Everything stopped, and I remember throwing a baseball with my brothers in the backyard under an eerily empty blue sky. Even the planes in the air had been stunned.
In the Twin Towers’ place on the New York skyline is the One World Trade Center, and it shines brilliantly in the blue sky. It is a symbol of American resilience, and the world can see in the building’s reflections that our planes are flying again. When we get knocked down, we get back up.
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