Sunday, August 14, 2011

0046: Reflecting Absence, 9/11 Memorial & Memories

I never really plan the topic of my blog because I collect ideas and pictures along the way and I've never lacked inspiration once I sit down to write. This morning I woke up and started my usual routine of reading the news. Despite being 28 days away, I was unprepared to see a story on Yahoo! titled, "9/11 Remembered: Behind-The-Scenes look at the 9/11 Memorial". I know the 10th anniversary is upon us but I just wasn't thinking about it yet.

Here is the video / story, its 8:03 minutes - 9/11 Remembered: Behind-The-Scenes look at the 9/11 Memorial. The memorial itself is called "Reflecting Absence" - I can't think of a more beautiful name.

Designer Michael Arad wanted the water and the design to really mark this continued sense of absence. This notion that time moves forward but that the absence in so many people's lives is persistent, it doesn't go away. That these voids, even though water continually falls into them day in and day out, will never fill up, they always remain empty. There will be two reflecting pools, one for each of the tower footprints. Each pool/footprint is 1 acre in size. 
This turned into an emotional morning to say the least. I cried from the moment the video started. I thought of the loss of human life, of the toll on the surviving families, of the bravery and courage of all the recovery efforts. I recalled the enormous sadness and unity that we all went through during that time 10 years ago. 

At the time, I lived in Cliffside Park, NJ, a small town along the Hudson River that overlooked Manhattan. I worked in Midtown Manhattan and remember the day so clearly. I think all of us do - whether we were in NYC or not. I was running late - as usual - and I had just returned from London the day before so was so happy to be home. The sky was an unbelievable blue, not one cloud, the day was so beautiful. Then I noticed something odd, I noticed smoke at the top of one of the towers... I remember the confusion that followed. I was driving south along the river, headed to the Lincoln Tunnel and was now staring as the smoke from the North Tower was growing. The radio announcers were still confused and were speculating whether it was a small plane or 'something else' - no one knew. When I got to the tunnel all traffic was being held up so I continued to stare at the North Tower in disbelief as the radio was starting to report that this was probably a terrorist attack. Then I saw the second plane hit and shock, confusion and fear shot through every inch of me. The city was immediately closed and I remember I got lost going home. As I was lost, I couldn't make any calls, the radio was my only communication. Then they reported that the Pentagon was hit and that another plane was missing. Then I heard the first tower went down and I started balling. When I finally got home and turned the TV on I saw the second tower fall, I sank to the floor in tears and was stuck there just watching the replays and listening to the speculation theories of what had happened and the number of lives that were likely lost. I was also on the verge of losing it because I was trying to make calls but all the lines were overwhelmed. It seemed as though some of my friends and family could get through to me but I had a frustrating time getting through to people I hadn't heard from, people that worked or lived in Manhattan. Luckily, all of my friends were fine, but I was left with the raw feeling of the desperation and sadness of not knowing. And I was hit with the realization that for so many people that was a first step into an unimaginable journey of pain and loss. It was all so emotional, so heart breaking.

My boss at the time made me go into work the next day despite the city being 'closed' to non-essential personnel... I crossed the river by ferry and everyone was just staring towards the smoke, which was thick and looming. Our new, empty skyline was still not visible because the smoke area was so enormous. No one was talking and some people were just crying silently as they stared at the darkness hanging over lower Manhattan. The sadness was incredibly heavy. There were photocopies of missing people all over the ferry, and thousands of these photocopied faces were all over Manhattan with the desperate question - "Have You Seen this Person" and some included pictures of the missing with their loved ones. It was so hard to see and feel the pain that was everywhere. 

On 9/12, the city was surreal, there were countless emergency vehicles and military vehicles everywhere and fighter planes above protecting the city. I was just shaking my head in disbelief, how could something so terrible have been done on purpose... Then I would see "civilian" trucks with everyday people coming in to help. Some had driven all night. Some had huge signs on their trucks saying things like "Ohio Loves NYC", "Construction workers, how can we help". There were food stations setup randomly to feed those helping the recovery effort, 'regular' people bringing in home cooked meals or handing out cold waters. I saw all sorts of determined people just wanting to help. It was such a beautiful testament to the humanity and love we all carry inside when we are stripped away of the unnecessary pettiness that often surrounds us. There were no classes, no races, no egos, no prejudices - I feel like I witnessed the concept of oneness in its purest state - it was amazing despite the horror of the situation.

So, here I sit with tissues in hand remembering a day that to this day is so hard to think about but knowing and recalling the beauty that we all have within us.  

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