“You can see forever”

I was in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on 9/11.   For those near my age, it is likely the day that will forever symbolize evil and terror in our world. Almost a generation later, the day remains etched in my memory, along with the commandeered rental car I drove back to the Atlanta airport and the machine gun toting guards that greeted me there.
Two weeks later, my wife and I sat on the hill overlooking the smoldering Pentagon, the gaping hole in the massive building showing what could happen when a plane is used as a missile. Like all Americans, we were still shell shocked at this direct attack to us on American soil.  
We had just put our oldest daughter on a plane to Europe where she would spend the next year studying abroad. Our hearts swelled as we watched her fly off into a world that seemed in chaos.  Yet we had taught her to never be afraid or the terrorists will win.  She made us proud in the decision, hers alone, to still travel abroad despite the horrific attacks that had occurred that September 11th.
Mary Lou and I traveled to New York City some months later.  We traveled down to Ground Zero where nothing had prepared us for the devastation that had occurred at the World Trade Center Towers.  Workers were still hauling debris out of the massive holes where the towers had once stood.  It was hard to fathom that we had once eaten dinner at the Windows of the World Restaurant on the 95th floor.
Some years later, we returned to the newly completed Memorial site.  It occupies eight of the sixteen acres where the World Trade Center had stood.  You could not help but be touched by the names of each victim that had been etched in bronze around the twin memorial pools.  I was particularly struck by the Survivor Tree, a lone broken and burned tree that lived through the devastation of that day.  Its new limbs sprouting from the disfigured trunk gave hope to us all.
My wife and I returned to lower Manhattan yet again when the 9/11 Museum was opened.  With over 110,000 square feet the museum tells the story of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the thwarted attack resulting in the plane crash in a field in Pennsylvania.  
The museum combined artifacts with technology to tell the heart wrenching stories of those who perished and the families and friends that were left behind.  It also told the inspiring stories of all the first responders who put their own safety aside to try to rescue people they did not know.  There were hundreds of heroes that day and the museum shows their bravery and courage.
I must admit that after leaving the 9/11 Museum I was emotionally drained.  It is almost overwhelming. I did not know when I would be able to go back.  
My own personal closure about the tragedy, heroism, and recovery of the 9/11 attacks came this past weekend when Mary Lou and I finally were able to visit the Observatory of the One World Tower.  This magnificent building that replaced the two World Trade Center Towers, is a true symbol of America’s ability to recover and rebuild from this horrible day.
The tour starts at the bottom, showing the building being built on bedrock going down thousands of feet.  The implication is clear that America recovered by constructing a building stronger than ever.  America is not defined by a single tragedy, but rather by its ability to rise from these ashes.
From the observatory, you can see America’s greatest city in every direction. High tech tablets identify important sites and buildings in every direction. People from all over the world, conversing in dozens of languages, all shared with us this incredible view of three states.  
The One Tower Observatory is the final of five visits on our own personal journey about this attack on America and its response.  It was an uplifting experience, bringing tears to my eyes, as I realized what a great achievement this building was and how in some ways it was America’s statement to the world.
The trademarked slogan of the Observatory is a perfect reflection of the journey that I have taken since 9/11. From the smoldering ashes of two collapsed towers, America has built a building that shows our strength and resilience.  I can attest that from the top of the One World Tower, you can see forever.
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Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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