This was my third visit to the Big Apple. It was a warm spring weekend in April; this time we brought one of the kids along for the adventures.
I remember exactly where I was when 9/11 happened (a Grade 1/2/3 Spec Ed classroom, as it were), and the complexity of emotions that plagued me both on that day and in the weeks that followed.
Having attended Come From Away (the musical), and read about both the Canadian side of the events (i.e. in places like Gander, NL, that rallied to support so many unexpected and emotionally overwhelmed short term visitors) as well as a book written by a journalist who covered some of the Afghan history and general world political and historical context as well as sharing minutes details of the terrorists’ organization and preparation to intentionally end their lives and so many others, I was eager (if such a word is appropriate here) to visit an American site and see some of the artifacts from this horrific day.
As I had been warned, it was a tremendously emotional experience, even for someone who did not have any personal connection. (I know no one who worked or lived there, and truth be told, I’m generally not a fan of the type of work that such a place represents.) The Americans have done an excellent job of finding a way to impress upon visitors the magnitude, while respectfully honoring the victims and survivors, of 9/11.
It did not feel right somehow to take photos on site, and it is difficult to really capture the whole experience with words, other than to say that it was quite visceral for me.
Surprised by my tears, my partner noted that under any other circumstances, I would not be likely to have a lot of time, emotionally or otherwise, for the sorts of people who typically would have worked at the WTC. (Other than maybe the cleaners.) True as that might be, I could still appreciate that everyone who worked and died there that day would have been someone’s parent, child, aunt or sibling, someone’s friend or neighbour. This context allows me to feel an incredibly strong human connection with them and with those who would have been looking for them, waiting anxiously and increasingly hopelessly as the horrible hours turned into endless days and eventually — for too many — dark weeks and months. And then there is the thought of all those who lived or worked or happened to be walking their dogs in the surrounding area on that fateful morning when one of the most incredible achievements of humanity - a flying machine - was used as a most deadly weapon.
From the accounts of first hand witnesses, the physical/geographical/climactic effects of two massive planes barreling into two giant towers lasted for weeks. The psychological and other impacts would of course have lasted much longer, and the way the site is set up now is a tribute to both that and to the desire for recovery, collective strength and determined progress.
Instead of photos at ground zero, I snapped a few pictures later, at Battery Park and out towards the Statue of Liberty.
Can Americans remember what that iconic symbol once stood for? And can we Canadians find ways to be good neighbors, encouraging and supporting our partners to the south to find new hope, and let this hope and vulnerability— rather than fear and hatred—drive their vision for a more humble and collaborative future?
As we near the end of the second decade after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, and pause to consider the ways in which travel to America (and indeed across the world) has changed since then, one can only hope so.