“I am just enjoying walking around seeing things I have seen on television all my life” said the Seattle Seahawks fan from Washington State as we stood on the subway platform in New York last week. It was his first trip to the city.
No matter how many times I have been, there is always something new and exciting to see. Who could ever tire of seeing the Statue of Liberty or Times Square or the Empire State Building?
However, without a doubt the most inspiring thing that we saw in New York City last week was the new 9/11 Memorial that recently opened at Ground Zero. We had visited the site not too long after that horrible day when they were still removing the rubble.
A few years later, we made a second visit to see the enormous gapping hole left when everything had been removed. It was a sixteen acre site, going down deep enough to accommodate the train stations, parking garages, and the enormous foundations that had been necessary for the massive Twin Towers.
We saw the new Freedom Tower, now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It is not finished inside yet, but the sleek design soars from the ground all the way to 1,776 feet.
It was the memorial that I most wanted to see. I had followed the design process, which took years, as all the many parties involved tried to find something respectful and meaningful. Your average memorial just wouldn’t do for this tragedy that touched the hearts of the entire country.
I had seen the final design, followed its progress as it was constructed, and watched on the news as it was opened to the public. I still wanted to see it for myself.
I was not prepared for just how powerful the memorials were in person. It took my breath away and the hundreds of people entering alongside us instinctively became silent as they saw it for the first time.
There are two pools where the footprint of the two buildings stood. The water flows over the wall of two giant squares before cascading down into what seems to be a bottomless void in the middle. They are the tallest waterfalls in North America.
2,983 names are inscribed in bronze ringing the pools. These include the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard Flight 93, as well as the trade center bombing on Feb. 26, 1993.
I did not know a single person killed on those days. However, I still did not want to leave. This is a peaceful and serene place in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities. The finished memorial captured perfectly what we feel but can’t put into words.
There are certain things in your travels that you want to see no matter how many times you visit. Who would go to San Francisco and not see the Golden Gate Bridge, even if they had seen it before? Who would ever go to Yellowstone Park and not see Old Faithful erupt each and every time?
I expect it will be the same for me with this wonderful park and this wonderful city. A visit rejuvenates your spirit, gives you hope and inspires you to be a part of a better world. For that alone, it is worth every trip.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org