Those of you following me on social media will have noticed that I did not post any photos of the 9/11 Memorial during my recent trip to New York. It was, in fact, one of my first visits to the city and never have I been so moved or awed by melancholy as I was watching dark rivers of water cascade into and even darker, endless abyss that made up the tribute to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.
And yet the saddest thing to me was not the memorial itself, but the number of people taking selfies--complete with big smiles and thumbs up--using this place of tragedy as their backdrop. Don't get me wrong, I love a good selfie as much as the next person, along with the joys of documenting travels and adventures. But all I could think when I saw throngs of people mindlessly snapping photos was that they have already forgotten the terror of that day. They must have, or why would they so carelessly pollute this landmark with elbow-shoving and photo-snapping?
This is a place where countless people lost their lives, a place where the American psyche has been irrevocably scarred. There is no room for selfies here, only solemnity and gravitas for the fallen, as touchingly expressed by the single white rose left in one name inscribed into the dark marble of the memorial--one of many victims. I later learned that survivors place these roses in victims' names on the day of what would have been their birthday.
So I could not take a picture here (the one you see in this blog has been lifted from the 9/11 memorial website). I could not devalue that pain and suffering this day caused, and continues to cause, for so many people. To this day, the 9/11 Memorial will remain one of the most profound studies in grief for me and, likewise, one of the most touching memorials for this overwhelming loss--for those who took the time to truly engage with it.
I have clear memories of visiting the Twin Towers during my first visit to New York over fifteen years ago. I was a teenager, happily playing hooky from school with my dad to visit my brother in this grand city. We spent the evening walking through the financial district after dinner, seeing the famous bull of Wall Street, among other sights. I recall clearly how my imprudent strappy high heels clacked on uneven streets; I was still under the illusion that women could somehow walk miles in strappy heels without pain or blisters. We had gotten it into our heads to go for a nightcap at a restaurant located at the top of one of the towers. It was when we entered the ground floor of one of the towers that I gave up on my dreams of effortless glamour and took off my high heels.
I walked, at fifteen, still in braces and wearing a too-tight dress (I had yet to outgrow that conception of glamour), walked barefoot through the twin towers, my utterly gorgeous but impractical heels swinging from my crooked fingers. We never got to the rooftop restaurant that night for one reason or another. Next time, we said.
A year later, my brother called from a rooftop in Manhattan, saying planes were crashing into the towers. My sisters and I were on our way to school. We turned on the news. We watched as the second one fell. The rest of the year was spent in a stupor, worried for my brother's safety, crushed by the immensity of what had happened. The was numbness. There was crying. There was scarring. Terrible, terrible scarring. And we were the least affected by this horrific tragedy.
So no, I did not take a photo of this memorial. I wouldn't smile for a selfie behind the white rose, a token that somebody with a still-beating heart mourns for another burried beneath this city. I will honor the white rose and the souls, like each drop of water in the memorial, that forever fall into the abyss.
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