Rather than write an incredibly long post about our summer in the States, I just want to bring up one point in time. It only lasted about twenty minutes but I will never forget that moment.
Our visit went like this: Montana, New York, Ohio. Sandwiched in the middle of our home states, we visited my grandparents in New York City. It had been a few years since I saw them and since we traveled this far, I didn’t think it would be out of the question to see some of my East coast family.
With an extra day in the City I decided it was time to visit the 9/11 memorial. And when I say “it was time” I really mean that I had been avoiding it since it opened. You see, it’s the final resting place of many people but one that I knew personally and to this day it is difficult to grasp that he is actually gone. And it’s not like he was a person I saw every day, just once a year. He was the husband of my cousin. I know that sounds rather distant but there is nothing distant about the relationship I have with my cousin, actually the cousin of my father. However, she is like the older sister I always wanted: someone who deeply understands me and still loves me. (And yes, I do actually have an older sister but it took us a while to become close so in the mean time, there was my cousin.)
I don’t want to tell you my story. It’s long and I’m just not willing to share at the moment. But here is what I want to tell you:
IF YOU EVER VISIT THE 9/11 MEMORIAL DO NOT TAKE A SELFIE WITH THE MEMORIAL IN THE BACKGROUND.
Even now while typing this all caps message to you, my heart is racing and my breath is short. Searching for his name on the metal plates, dodging tourists, was as if I was searching for a lost treasure. I almost started to panic when I couldn’t find it. My dad was there, telling me he knew where it was but we couldn’t find it. My hands passed over each name like I was reading them with my fingertips, asking them if they knew where he was. And then, spelled out before my eyes: First Middle Last. I wept, as I wept then, as I am weeping now. The tragedy is still fresh for me and I don’t know if it will ever go away.
But there, as I wept, were people all around me taking god damned selfies. Families standing before the roaring fountains, smiling for the camera. I get that I was standing in the middle of one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world but I couldn’t help but hate every person I saw. Perhaps hate is a strong word. I guess really, I just felt sorry for them because they were clueless. Didn’t they know that they were standing on the graves of so many people? Would they take their selfies in the gas chambers of a concentration camp? Or the USS Arizona memorial? What did they think this was, Rockefeller Center?
However, I love freedom. I love living in a country that respects the rights of people to express themselves freely, without fear of imprisonment or persecution. This is why I ask, beg, plead with you to take the time to visit the 9/11 memorial and try to respect it as the final resting place of people who had nothing to do with war but died in a fight that will never be truly won. You may or may not know someone who was never found but now you know someone who does.
I’ve seen ground zero from the beginning, middle and end of it’s progression after 9/11. Yes, it is a grand memorial but the roar of the waterfalls is too terrifying for me. It drowns out the cries of the past and clouds the eyes of the living. It washes away the destruction and the death. Perhaps some day those things will be washed out of my memory too but I hope to god I never see that day. I, for one, will never forget.
I feel this way around many of the memorials in Washington DC. In fact, my youngest hates going to Arlington National Cemetery. Not because it was a sad place but because so many tourists just didn’t conduct themselves with the respect the place demands. Every time he visited with us, he looked pained as people took selfies and children played on walls with signs that asked people to be respectful. I see it as a separation between those who feel connected to the wars and to 9/11 and to those who were told to go shopping. The later provided no connection at all yet millions of us believe it helped the nation. And they still take selfies in the strangest locations.
I’m glad you went. It took me until two years ago to face many of those ghosts. We lost several neighbors and one dear boy that lived three doors down from us. He was on the plane that hit the Pentagon. When I went to the memorial at the Pentagon it felt so strange to be having such a profound and deeply emotional moment when others were milling about laughing and yes, taking selfies. I don’t really expect everyone to have the same connection to an event or place that I do, but I sure wish we could see a return of basic courtesy and decorum in sacred places. Thank you for sharing your experience.
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