There have been numerous historic events throughout America’s history. Some events bring joy to our memories, others pain and still more, absolute confusion and disbelief. During my life I have been blessed to see the locations of many of these historic events.
No other American site has touched me as much as Ground Zero. In fact, I had the same reaction when my family and I visited Ground Zero, just after the twelfth anniversary, as I did while visiting the Holocaust Museum in Israel.
Without warning, tears began to flow from my eyes expressing the heaviness my heart felt for the horrific loss in our country.
I have always loved New York City. After my first visit to the city, when I was ten years old, there was an attachment of which I have been unable to explain. So on the morning of September 11, 2001, my feelings on that day felt incredibly personal.
The memories of September 11th are so vivid each year as we remember those who gave their lives in such horrific ways. I remember being six months pregnant with our son and trying desperately to make sure our daughter, who was almost 4 years old, didn’t hear too many of the details. We flew a lot at that time, and I didn’t want her to be afraid. In fact, it was years before our children knew how the buildings fell to the ground.
As our family planned our trip to New York City last year, there was never a question whether we would pay our respects to Ground Zero. It was a visit which needed to be made.
The morning of our visit I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t certain of how all of us would react to the overwhelming reality of what we were going to experience.
As we approached the area near Ground Zero and the new Freedom Tour, I began to try and imagine what it must have been like to see the enormous debris cloud push its way through the streets of Lower Manhattan that morning. The day we visited was as clear as it appeared to be the morning of the attacks. This made my sense of wonder heighten, as my concern for those running away from the buildings became almost distracting.
As I walked closer to the Memorial Site, I tried to imagine huddling with perfect strangers inside the local businesses. I wondered how helpless it must have felt to attempt to ‘out run’ the mound of dust and debris heading your direction.
Then we approached the fire station closest to the site. There were names on the walls of those who lost their life. The remembrance of those who ran toward the disaster, so others could run away.
Someone was cleaning the large plaque that memorialized that day. It appeared to be an incredible honor to care for it.
Then suddenly, in front of my family, was the entrance to Ground Zero. Construction was still going on, so the entrance wasn’t grand, but it was real. We were walking into an area where thousands of innocent people lost their lives in what felt like a heartbeat.
As we walked through the entrance, an incredible quiet fell upon the area. Everyone knew what had been and what it is now, a quiet collision in our minds.
Upon entering the fountain area there was such a great amount of peace. The sound of the rushing water created a soothing atmosphere, which put to rest the anxiety of remembering the horrible details of the day which brought us to this place.
The fountains and The Survivor Tree were the only things available to see on that day. In retrospect, I think that was enough. Maybe a tragedy such as 9/11 should be revisited a little at a time, if possible. For me, it caused me to slow down and take time to read the names on the fountain and reflect on the sacrifices.
Our family found joy in visiting The Survivor Tree. Seeing the one tree which survived the horrific events of that day was almost like a promise, similar to God’s promise of the rainbow. Certainly God did not decree any promises on that day, except the promise of His Spirit bringing comfort to those in need of it.
The tree, however, showed the strength and the will of surviving. That tree belongs to those who made it out that day. It doesn’t belong to those of us who only visit. It is a sign of the determination and the strength America has in the face of adversity.
As we turned to leave, my tears began to fall, just as they did when I left the Holocaust Museum. It was as though I didn’t want to leave. Maybe I had a fear of forgetting, forgetting that I had stood where thousands had died. Maybe an apprehension of forgetting the feeling that welled inside my heart for those left behind. Perhaps it was awe. Coming face to face with the awareness of what happens when hatred boils to such a point, the results are horrific events.
I will never forget that first visit to Ground Zero. It brought comfort, even though my family didn’t lose a loved one. It brought hope to see evidence of survival and a strong will which still exists in my country. And it forever cemented Ground Zero in my heart!