Tonawanda News — It wasn’t quiet.
Of course, after a mere six hours or so visiting, I’d (unsurprisingly) decided New York City rarely was. There were voices, car horns blaring in the streets nearby, a constant background hum of activity and life. The very atmosphere felt different.
Yet, somehow, this one little island in the midst of it all maintained a pool of ... stillness, for lack of a better word. It wasn’t quiet. But people didn’t ... perhaps couldn’t ... forget why they were there.
Let me back up.
For the first time in a life spent in New York state, I visited New York City this past weekend. Guided by family members who’ve lived and worked in the city, my husband and I did all the touristy sorts of things like a visit to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (where the NASA prototype space shuttle Enterprise now resides), a trip to Times Square and more. I know I gawked a bit, as the country girl I grew up and the suburban mom I am now, took a ton of photographs and generally felt like a fish out of water. But in a good way.
And then we wound up at the National September 11 Museum and Memorial.
While construction is taking place in the area (including the Freedom Tower, the lead building of the new World Trade Center complex), everyone who visits the memorial needs a (free) pass reserved in advance for a specific time during the day. Filing along in line, passes in hand, through the security screening, more lines and finally into the area where the memorial exists, the mood got more and more ... maybe not quite somber, but certainly pensive.
I know for me, it was impossible to not think about Sept. 11, 2001. How my father called and woke me up so I could turn on the television. How he said, “It must be an accident ... right?” How the second plane hit, and the towers fell. How I called the man who is now my husband and the father of my children. (And woke him up from a sound sleep. We worked late nights, those days.) How, after watching helplessly for a while, I finally got ready and went into work at the Niagara Gazette, where at least I felt I could DO something.
As I and my fellow visitors emerged into the plaza, I could immediately hear the sound of the water at the twin reflecting pools that sit in the footprint of the World Trade Center towers. Water constantly rushes into the two square pools, then again over the edges of a smaller square pool in the center of each.
If you’re like me, you watch the water for a minute. You realize that you can’t see the bottom of the center pools, which is oddly unnerving. Then you notice the names.
There are nearly 3,000 of them, inscribed on bronze panels lining the pools — all the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993, terrorist attacks. You can only read so many, and then you have to look away. The scope is frightening ... also as it should be.
The plaza has grassy patches, and lots of trees. Under one oak tree, someone had placed a single red rose. I don’t know who they were, or why they left that tribute. I never will. But it was impossible not to wonder.
I read later that we were there the same day a group of students from a Brooklyn junior high school — probably no more than preschool age themselves when the attacks occurred — were kicked out of the memorial plaza for tossing trash into the waters. We didn’t see anything like that, for which I’m glad. All we saw were people ... old, young, carrying infants, of many different ethnic groups, shapes and sizes, all looking at the water with expressions that said that they remembered, too.
And they weren’t going to forget.
Later this year, North Tonawanda will dedicate its own 9/11 memorial, a site designed by NTHS students to showcase a piece of World Trade Center steel donated to the city. And the world will have one more place to stand and remember.
Especially after Saturday, I don’t think we can ever have too many of those.Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at email@example.com.