The 9/11 Memorial: In Remembrance

Memorials and Remembrance / Memorials and Remembrance : Eleanor Haley

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9/11 is my flashbulb memory. I remember exactly where I was sitting when the first plane hit the World Trade Center setting off a furry of confusion and questioning, and I remember the exact shirt I was putting on when the second plane hit, confirming our country’s collective worst fear. I lived in Syracuse, New York at the time and despite being hundreds of miles from the events unfolding in NYC and DC, I still had no idea what to do next…no one knew. In the end it would take hours, days, weeks, for people to truly comprehend what happened that Tuesday morning.

David Levithan 9/11 quote

In the days and weeks after 9/11 the stories started to emerge – stories of rescuers, stories of survivors, stories of onlookers, stories of the people in the planes, stories of those who died. With the retelling of each account I would imagine myself as the people involved – Did they understand what was going on? What would I have done? Would I have been as brave? Like many I wantched the news constantly, unable to turn it off until I truly understood the horror that had taken place, until I really grasped its magnitude.

Oddly, during this time I don’t remember imagining myself in the place of those grieving the death of a loved one. I may have considered the worry and concern felt by those who waited decade long minutes for their loved ones to call or walk through the door; but I was still relatively young and the grief of losing a loved one was not something I could comprehend. I could identify with the countries collective grief, but even I knew collective grief is nothing like personal grief. As an American I owned a very small fraction of this tragedy and reasoned the closer you were to it, the more you owned – the people of New York City, then the people who we’re in the towers and the first responders, then the people who lost loved ones, then the people who died – of course none of these people ever wished to own any bit of it.

I recently visited New York City with a few friends from highschool, the first time since well before 9/11. It was to be a ‘fun girls trip’ of sorts with an agenda packed full of mindless things like kareoke and Broadway shows, so when it was brought up that we should include a visit to the 9/11 memorial there was some trepidation that it would be too sad. For me ‘too sad’ is a relative term, so I gave my two cents that it probably won’t be as heavy as it seems and ultimately everyone agreed.

9/11 Memorial

So, on the first morning of our trip we found ourselves squinting at a subway map, trying to unravel the ball of yarn that is the NYC subway system. After the obligatory bickering provoked by any four adults trying to read the same map, a route was decided upon and we we’re on our way. We rode along quietly for the first time since the beginning of the trip, I guess preparing ourselves for the solemnity of visiting hallowed ground.

Finally the subway spit us out onto a crowded street and we found ourselves surrounded by people, all headed in the same direction. Men, women, and children all speaking with different accents and in different languages, all there to see the same memorial. My friend remarked how the beautiful day, cool with clear blue skies, was just like the morning of September 11th. This was something I too had noticed, but stopped myself from saying.

We walked several blocks to the memorial and then were filtered through several security checks, all the while winding around the massive construction efforts working to erect impressive new towers. We eventually found ourselves inside the memorial at the South Pool set in the footprint of the original South Tower.

Around the edge of the South and North pools the names of the nearly 3000 victims are carved into bronze plates and despite the frenetic energy of New York City life only a block away, here all you hear is the soothing sound of water falling 30 feet into the reflection pools below. As I ran my hands over the names of complete strangers, the powerful beauty of the memorial finally made me stop and imagine myself in the place of a griever – What does this place mean to them? How do they feel about all these strangers coming to visit? Is it painful or healing for them to come here?

I was also struck by how strongly the memorial and the city growing around it parallel individual grief. At the heart of everything lie the scars and the pain; the sacredness and sorrow of a life ended before we’re ready to let go. These are things we will never forget, nor never really wish to. But from this, through this, and around this, we learn to move forward. Just like New York City we can’t rebuild ourselves into an exact replica of what we once were and just like New York City our skyline will never be the same. Instead, we grow into something inspired by all we’ve been through, something strong and hopeful and forever changed.

world trade center
Engine 24
9/11 Memorial
9/11 george bush quote

Let’s be grief friends.

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7 Comments on "The 9/11 Memorial: In Remembrance"

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  1. candy  July 30, 2019 at 10:05 am Reply

    how do u get a name on the 911 memorial my boyfriend was a fire fighter at 911 he died in 2013 and was just wondering if his name would be add to 911 memorial

  2. Vicki  September 16, 2015 at 2:26 pm Reply

    Until they find something that matches the DNA we gave to the coroner, in order to physically confirm his death, I don’t think I’ll ever feel closure. Whatever that is.
    I have a friend who worked inside Tower 1 and he’s the only one in his company who was there that day who lived; 69 of his colleagues died. He was with his two good friends, who were married to each other and one was pregnant with their first child. She was 26. The last thing she said to her husband as this friend was leaving to look for help was to state concern for her unborn baby. She, her husband and their unborn child didn’t make it out.
    Until I knew someone it happened to and heard stories like that, I never thought closure would feel impossible to achieve.
    IMO there’s something wrong with never retrieving earthly remains. Even Osama bin Laden, the architect of all this misery, got to have his body. And the people with him had the audacity to get upset when it became apparent we were going to bury his body at sea instead of giving him his highly honored funeral they wanted to have for him.
    The president echoed my sentiment on it when he said “At least bin Laden got to have his body, that’s more than he gave to a lot of people.”
    I was grateful he remembered to mention that some people didn’t get to have their earthly remains. You get thankful for unusual things when you’re reaching for gratitudes.
    The anger is so much more intense than the happy feelings that you have to try extra hard to feel happiness.

  3. Lance  April 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm Reply

    We lived and worked in Manhattan on September 11th. We’ll never forget that day. We just visited the September 11 Memorial last month – the first time in over 10 years since we’ve been back to lower Manhattan. I’m really glad we were able to return and put closure on the experience.

  4. James  March 11, 2014 at 9:10 am Reply

    It’s always makes me emotional to remember 9/11. I cannot forget the tragedy which was held in US. But I really want to appreciate your effort. Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Peru Bus  January 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm Reply

    It was so hard, I was just child but I can remember I was so scared about that issue, it is bad thing we will always remember.

  6. Casey  August 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm Reply

    Hey, Eleanor.

    Thank you for another great post. The idea of ‘flashbulb memories’ is new to me, but gives a whole new perspective on why memories of hearing about both my closest online friends’ deaths will not dull. Brilliant photos, too.

    Take care,


    • Eleanor  September 3, 2013 at 8:31 pm Reply

      Hey Casey,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for all your support!!!


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