We had never been to Ground Zero. The idea of that place as a tourist destination always made us feel slightly uncomfortable. But the last time we were in New York City our daughter came too. She’s in her early twenties. She wanted to see Soho and the Village. So we headed to lower Manhattan. We took the bus down Fifth Avenue (not the one in the picture) and got off at Washington Square.
All of us like to take photographs: my daughter is probably the best of the bunch. We wandered the streets taking pictures of buildings and people, looking for interesting things and interesting angles. My daughter is always on the lookout for original street art.
I took a picture of some silver cufflinks shaped like lanterns because they seemed like something from an era long, long ago. There was a church bell ringing and I turned on my itouch and recorded it.
As we wandered, without realizing it, we were getting closer and closer to the site of the 9/11 attacks. Once we did realize it, we decided to walk the extra few blocks and go. Twenty-six Canadians lost their lives there.
It was a beautiful February day. The kind where you want to open your coat and turn your face up to the sun to feel the warmth. But as we walked along the streets near Ground Zero all I could see was a jumble of images from that day in 2001: the dust cloud, the nuclear winter, the people running. The firefighters running toward the buildings. The people watching in horror as the second plane hit. The towers falling. The fences covered with photographs of the missing.
My husband phoned me at work the morning of September 11th to tell me someone had flown a plane into the the World Trade Center. I was just about to go into a meeting with my boss. When I got out, I called him back. He told me about the second plane and how a third plane had hit the Pentagon.
“The Pentagon!!” I knew it then. The United States was under attack.
Not just people have memories. Places have them too. Old Battlefields are like that in France or in Pennsylvania. You can feel it. The weight of the event still hangs heavily in the air even though the actual evidence of the thing that happened is long gone.
That’s what it was like at Ground Zero. Only the evidence of what happened was still there. There was a great hole in the earth at the bottom of Manhattan where the World Trade Center once stood.
I heard recently that Mayor Bloomberg of New York wants New Yorkers to stop calling the site “Ground Zero.” He wants them to move on. He said he hopes that next year there will not be a memorial ceremony because it has been ten years.
At the Visitor Centre, they had set up a sound booth so you could go in and record your memories of 9/11. My daughter wanted to do it. When it happened, she was thirteen and in school. She went into the booth and talked for a long time. Now she was part of the record of the impact of that day. After she was finished recording, we walked back outside.
None of us said anything for a while.
Then not too far from the Visitor Centre, we found a little plaza dedicated to the people who had survived the attacks. In the middle was a sculpture, a bright shiny red balloon twisted into the shape of a flower. It’s by Jeff Koons. According to some, it is shiny and reflective because first you look at it but then you see yourself reflected back. I understand that in the warm whether it is actually a fountain.
On that day in February, it made us think of children’s birthday parties and the future. It made us smile.
It made us think that although you never forget, no matter what happens, life goes on.