We visited the 9/11 memorial on Saturday. It was… difficult.
On holiday in Israel aged 16, my parents took me to Yad Vashem, a holocaust memorial museum. I didn’t want to go. I walked through the centre speedily and avoided all the exhibits. I am educated; I know what happened during WW2. But somehow, I cannot deal with the sadness, the tragedy, the grief and anger that makes me feel violently sick, at these memorials. I’m just not mentally equipped to deal with it.
At that visit, I caught sight of one thing only. A still, monochrome, grainy image on a small screen. I won’t say what it depicted, but it was harrowing.
I can see it crystal clear right now. I always can. It comes to mind often and never deliberately. Thinking about it creates a painful knot in my chest. That image will stay with me forever and ever. Imagine if I had seen the entire museum…
The above wasn’t totally off-point. As I said before, I am educated. I know as well as anyone what occurred on 9/11, 2001. It terrifies and horrifies and saddens me. I am always mindful to avoid another Yad Vashem incident, but I’m 22 – an adult! – and in New York. I wanted to see the memorial and the new World Trade Centre towers.
It was… difficult.
Paved and planted with green-leafed trees, signs directing visitors, kiosks with advisors and hundreds of tourists in shorts and sun hats, it could be any plaza anywhere in the world. A green oasis surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers in one of the world’s busiest cities. But it’s not, sadly.
Where each twin tower stood, there is a ‘pool’. Let me try to describe them to you in the way I immediately saw them.
A vast square, carved deep into the ground and in the middle, a smaller square that goes far deeper: the antithesis of the huge skyscrapers that once stood there.
Around the edge, carved into black stone in large lettering, the name of every victim.
Of course, they are called pools because of the water they contain. From below the wall that displays the names, individual shoots of water flow vertically down the walls of the outer square. They are separate entities until they tumble all at once into a shallow pool and thence into the central square. From a visitor’s view, this pool is bottomless. It is a dark, gaping cavern that never ends. The water, once so defined, falls and falls in an unidentifiable mass into the depths of the ghost of the twin towers, never to be seen again. Gone to a dark, unknown, terrifying place no one else can go.
The individual strands of water are the victims.
One person, one jet.
Bursting forth with innocent gusto to just-another-day.
But the people are falling with no escape route. There is no way other than down. Down. Down. Down.
Suddenly the people, these unique individuals with lives as vivid as yours or mine, become nameless in the great mass.
There is only way to go from there. Just as water is governed by gravity, people are governed by fate.
So in they go, falling twisted together into an unavoidable death: the central, smaller pool.
Into the darkness and the unknown ‘Other Side’.
And as suddenly as it started, the people are gone. The water vanishes from view. There is nothing for us to do but stare powerlessly into the abyss.
Watching the water and reading the names simultaneously was powerful. In sharp contrast to my last harrowing experience, I was fixated! I didn’t want to look away!
It’s a beautiful and emotional and poignant and hugely symbolic (to me at least) memorial of the tragedy of 9/11.
And I’d go back again to stare at it all day and take moments for everyone who lost their lives in tragedy in a heartbeat.