Today is the eight-year anniversary of 9/11.
I got a chance to visit New York earlier this year, and while I was there I got a chance to visit Ground Zero.
Along the big fence that surrounds the site are photos of the site from the day of and morning after the attacks.
Directly across the street from Ground Zero is a small, storefront museum that is as gut-wrenching a tour as any I have ever seen. The walls are covered in quotes from witnesses and survivors of that terrible day and the artifacts that they found are simply amazing.
Personal effects of people who had no idea that that day would be their last.
Some of the items included were cell phones, receipts, and ID badges. Keys, purses, eyeglasses and shoes. Silverware from the restaurant on the top floor. Spoons with holes burnt through the middle. Forks where the tines have been twisted in such a way that they closely resembled a troll-doll.
Each of these items had a small story about where they were found on “the pile” including a teddy bear that seemed to have escaped the whole affair nearly unblemished and landed on top of the pile.
Dotted throughout the exhibit were movies telling the stories of those who escaped, and those who were lost forever.
There were badges of fallen police officers that were barely identifiable. Two revolvers that had been fused together and crushed into concrete. Fire-fighter helmets that had been crushed and sometimes were all that was left of it’s owner.
One of the videos was of a fire-fighters’ father who was on the pile searching for his son who was found nearly intact, and the silent reverence of all the people on the pile as he was pulled from the debris.
Next to where the video is displayed is the turnout gear of that firefighter, with its misshapen helmet, and tattered fire-coat, on loan to the museum from the man’s father.
Then you enter a room with a collage of pictures and a video monitor slowly displaying the names of all who were lost that day. As you approach the screen you slowly began to feel the full weight of the loss. Each and every picture covering all the walls is that of someone who was lost. Wedding photos, graduation pictures, yearbook photos, and Polaroids. Police officers in uniform, Firefighters in their gear. Fathers and mothers. Sons and daughters. Some smiling, some stoic and all of them lost on that fateful morning eight years ago.
Tears of sadness and a true sense of loss became overwhelming. I never met any of these people. I didn’t know anyone personally who was killed that morning, but the pictures, you begin to see yourself among them. You begin to relate and remember your wedding day, or your graduation. You remember all of those times where your mom had to chase you around the house with a camera, or beg you to smile.
You relate to them, and the loss becomes a part of you.
I met a woman who worked at the World Trade Center. She worked for the Port Authority and was running late that morning. She was supposed to meet a friend at the restaurant on top of tower one for breakfast.
What many (including myself) didn’t realize was that the losses could have been worse.
September 11th, 2001 was the first day of school. Many parents were running late as they were dropping their kids off. Had the attacks happened an hour later, at 9:30, many more people would have been at work.
That morning was also an election day; so many more people were out voting that morning which was why the woman I met was running late.
Her job with the Port Authority was to manage the homeless. She acknowledged that many people wonder why the Port Authority would have anything to do with dealing with the homeless, but it turns out that many of the city’s homeless population stay in bus stations, and train stations, subways, and even at the World Trade Center.
The World Trade Center was a 24-hour building. Many overseas markets don’t open until the dead of night in New York.
It had bed and shower facilities for employees who would work those late nights. There was a cafeteria that was open round-the-clock so people could have lunch at 3am if they wanted to.
Some of these resources were allocated for the homeless.
She had come to know many of them during her time there. Mostly by face, but some by first name. She has not seen many of them since that morning.
Nobody knows who they are. There are no pictures of them on the walls, and no family looking for them. It’s almost as if they never existed.
Pearl Harbor was an attack on our nation’s military. 9/11 was an attack on our society. During the raid on Pearl Harbor, the attackers were attacking a foe that could respond (even if it was thought unlikely by the planners). 9/11 was an attack on those who could not defend themselves; those who stood no chance of fighting back.
We have never forgotten the attacks of Pearl Harbor; we can never forget the attacks of 9/11.