When Mike and I watched the DVD of September 11 a few weeks ago, there was a segment about the people looking for their family members. You remember the pieces of paper that the TV kept showing – picture after picture of missing people, posted on every available surface. Mike said, “This was the hardest part of the whole thing.” I know what he’s saying – the pictures of all the missing and the dead forced us to see that each of these people had a story. They weren’t just a number – they were people with husbands and wives and parents and children and best friends who missed them and wanted them to come home. It was unbearably sad and overwhelming.
But I thought, after he said that, I couldn’t pick the hardest part. Again memories of that time came to me in bits and pieces. The bravery of the people on Flight 93 who fought back when they knew they were going to die. The way the newscasters kept showing the hospitals ready to help anyone who was found alive. The long lines at the blood banks of people all over the country who just wanted to help, though that blood wasn’t needed as much as we all hoped and prayed it would be. All of it so big and sad and . . . hard.
One of my friends was studying in Australia during the fall semester of 2001, and when she came back we compared notes on the experience. She said she was so glad that she was out of the country, because it gave her a greater perspective on how the rest of the world saw the events. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere but here. The patriotism, the collective grief and anger, the closeness of friends and family – I am thankful to have seen it and to have been here for it, here while the country mourned together.
The World Trade Center buildings didn’t mean that much to me before all this. I had seen them in person, and I knew they were a part of the New York skyline, but I wasn’t especially attached to or enthralled with them. Now, though, I find myself looking for them in movies and Friends reruns and feeling comforted when I see them. “There they are,” I think. “I didn’t imagine it – they really did used to be there.”
So, on Saturday morning, we went down to the World Trade Center site. I just wanted to see it for myself.
There’s no memorial or anything, not yet. There’s just a big fence, and some signs that have pictures about the history of the World Trade Center and a list of the names of the people who died. But . . . there’s nothing there. I looked at the other buildings around, saw the way they stretched up into the blue sky, and thought, “I can’t imagine if those buildings were suddenly just not here.” We walked all the way around the perimeter, which is the best way to get a perspective on the size of the lot. It’s just unbelievable that there were buildings, tall tall buildings there, and now there’s nothing.
There were other touristy people like us there, people who were crying or taking pictures or just observing. I took a few pictures myself, but I haven’t gotten them developed yet. As I was standing there, I thought about a lot of the things I have read, things New Yorkers have written about actually experiencing the events that I only watched on TV. How they try to balance remembering with moving on, being grateful for what is still here. I’m not a New Yorker, and I don’t feel that I have profound thoughts on what happened that day. I just find it so hard to believe . . . all those people, all that metal and glass and paper . . . reduced to nothing.
I think now that I have seen it, I’m ready to say: That’s the hardest part of the whole thing.