Thursday, November 20, 2014

Impressions of the 9/11 museum in Manhattan




I feel the eeriness echoing from within, and I absorb the enormity of my emotions. I came knowing full well it would be difficult.





      Like an infant leaving the hospital snuggled in his mother’s arms, so is the birthing of new life in Lower Manhattan.
     The sky is as blue as the azure tint of a newborn’s receiving blanket. It is the identical hue today as on the morning of 9/11/2001. There is not a single cloud in the sky. No wind.
     I will leave you to your own story of that dreadful day.
     Today, I am standing in line with a multitude of people from all over the world waiting to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum commemorating the attacks on the World Trade Center of 2001 and the bombing of 1993.
     It is the rebirthing of a site once the hallmark of international trade. I lift my head up and around noticing new building construction rising even higher into the sky. There is no stopping commerce like labor pains in the delivery room. It feels optimistic, though. Resilience.
    Since the first anniversary of the attack, I have gone to the site when I am in New York, and locked my hands in the steel fence offering a prayer for those the world lost that day. I am in good company with the other tributes of flowers and notes linked into the enclosure encompassing the vast empty cavity in the earth.




      In its place has risen a gentle waterfall sculptural space etched with the names of those lost. It is meant to be cathartic in its power of memory rushing over the water.
     When I order tickets online for this particular date and time, I am given information in order to make my experience meaningful. Normally, I read all the details. Instead, I take a different route. I want to walk into the museum and let my own feelings come to the surface without preconceived expectations.
     Not surprisingly, the folks that lived through the early days of unrest and trauma are not as anxious to tour the museum. I must say that I don’t blame them. My daughter and her husband carried on like robots during the horrors for weeks on end. One friend escaped miraculously by ducking into a building that saved her from being under crumbling girders.

     The museum’s significance rests, first and foremost, in its location: The 110,000 square feet of exhibition space are within the archaeological heart of the World Trade Center site.
     The museum takes visitors underground — literally. It lies 70 feet below ground, so entering the museum involves descent from the light of the outside into dimly lit depths, which adds to the overall power and pathos of this hallowed ground.
     A variety of fascinating exhibits reveal the makeup of New York City’s impressive bedrock, like a 450-million-year-old chunk of Manhattan schist, excavated in August 2008.
     WTC’s architectural grandeur is also showcased via a large-scale model, originally built in 1969 to 1971, which is one of the largest and most detailed WTC presentation models still surviving today. It’s a compelling piece, because it highlights what the World Trade Center was, rather than what became of it.
     And what became of the WTC is displayed throughout the museum, including the Survivors’ Staircase, which was the last visible remnant of the buildings after the attacks. The stairs served as a critical life route for many to escape, and in 2008, the 58-ton stairway moved to the museum, where it looms today.
     I view a massive twisted piece of “impact steel,” a portion of the north tower facade that suffered a direct hit from American Airlines Flight 11.
     One side of the museum encompasses the slurry wall, a retaining wall that was built to keep the Hudson River from flooding the site.
     But though the museum is filled with gigantic pieces that bear the scars of tragedy, it’s the small personal objects that are perhaps the most haunting: smudged reading glasses, a pair of heels, a trampled wallet displayed to reveal its contents of coins and credit cards, a flight attendant’s wing lapel.
     There is one place in the bowels of the tower where family, friends and visitors may leave a computer message that immediately is projected onto the wall. I wait in line behind a woman and her family hovering over the keyboard. When I read what she is writing  — “We miss you and will never forget” — I realize that they need space to mourn and celebrate a life. I back away and leave them in peace.
     Like the Holocaust Museum, Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg Battlefield, a silence prevails as everyone has a lot to process. I feel the eeriness echoing from within, and I absorb the enormity of my emotions. I came knowing full well it would be difficult.
     In my opinion, the museum is tastefully done. It is both educational and historical examining the past and its continued global significance. I am not sure that I agree with paying an admission price. Someone remarked that you don’t pay to go into a cemetery.
      Although the gift shop is not tacky and it is positioned out of the main thoroughfare, I refrain from making a purchase. I can’t think of any object that would want to take home. My memories are in my head.
    Traipsing the crowded sidewalk back to the subway, I have spent time in a sacred place. I paid my respects. It was the right thing to do.
    Will the world learn from that September morning?