26 August 2012

Hope in Lower Manhattan

For years, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have made New York City a getaway.  We'd try to get there for a long weekend as much as we could. It was a place where we could play tourist unabashedly, eat well, and take in all that the City had to offer. In a prior work role, I was in NYC often and when I found myself on a long run through Central Park one morning, I felt like I'd arrived. Now that we are living a mere two-plus hours from the City, we were excited to introduce it to CAL and The Boy.  That introduction was made yesterday.

I won't go all hellish "slide-show of Aunt Sylvia's summer trip to Sioux City" on you here.  I will say this, my children are now adept at navigating the city with their MetroCards in hand.  I was really pleased with how well they made their way around as we hit the places they wanted to see.  The Boy, while enjoying the place, made it clear he is a Chicagoan.  As far as he's concerned, Chicago is the First City, not the Second. CAL was especially eager to see Times Square (her sighting of the Naked Cowboy was a strange highlight) and Ground Zero.

I was not eager to go to Ground Zero.  The events of 9/11 changed the scope of what I do professionally forever.  It is still difficult to properly articulate what that day means.  While I personally knew no one who died in the Towers, the Pentagon, or that field in Pennsylvania, this was an intensely personal event for me.  It still is.  I will never forget flying over the still-smoking ruins of the Towers a few weeks after they fell. Tears fell fast on that day as we flew over Ground Zero and each anniversary has been a mixture of emotion for me.  So going to the site was something I approached with trepidation at best.

But we went.  As we took the "R" train down to the site, I asked my family to bear with me at the site.  I wasn't sure how it was going to go.  As we emerged from the subway, what came into sight was something that struck me as so very hopeful.  We saw the Freedom Tower. Rising from the horror of 9/11, the Freedom Tower represents a nation's resilience. Although I think it's pretty hideous architecturally, it was, for me, so hopeful to see this tower nearing completion. I had a lump in my throat as we walked in its shadow to get to the 9/11 Memorial.  Once you clear the TSA-inspired security (lots of screaming about taking off all sorts of stuff before being screened), you walk onto the footprint of the two towers where the exquisite memorials have been built.  The names of the thousands who died are etched into the two memorials.  Having read so much about those who died, I recognized more than a few of the names.  I got emotional as I recalled their stories. I was suddenly glad that we were there though.  As I watched the water that courses through both sites, I was struck by the power of the site.  With the Freedom Tower rising in the background, it was very hopeful. This is a place to remember what happened. Once the Museum is completed, it will be an even more powerful experience.

For me, it was a sacred experience. I felt much the same way after the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML visited Mauthausen, one of the most heinous of the Nazi concentration camps.  It was awful, even gut-wrenching, but in the end, inspiring.  I think the 9/11 Memorial's mission statement sums it up beautifully: May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance, and intolerance.

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