09 August 2014

On Hallowed Ground

We've had the pleasure of hosting CAL's roommate and as the kids say today, BFF, A, for the last several days. It's her first time in Connecticutistan and the East Coast. She's gotten the grand tour, including two days in New York City. It was refreshing to experience the city with someone who'd never been there before. It does put a different spin on the place, to be sure.

As a part of the two day "Show and Tell" bonanza, we took her to the National September 11 Memorial and this is where things went south, at least for me (I've been doing a slow burn about this all day, so buckle up, a long rant follows). For a host of reasons that I've documented here in postings on September 11th over the course of the last few years, 9/11 is particularly poignant for me. When we visited the Memorial when it was first opened, the Museum had not yet opened. Tickets were required to get on to the site and you were only on after a TSA DefCon 5 Security feel up. The mood was one of reverence as people gazed into memorials where the Towers once stood. Tears freely flowed as people read the names of those who died. It didn't matter if they knew them or not. People were honoring those who had died on that terrible day.

Imagine my dismay as we walked onto the Memorial site today. No longer are tickets required to get on the site. There is no security check. While there are signs posted throughout the site to remind people that they are on hallowed ground and to behave accordingly, it has become a circus. And not a good one, but then is there really a good circus? I digress. The site is mobbed with people. It seemed like each one felt compelled to grin broadly as they snapped selfies. Today I happened upon the name of someone who died that day with whom I share the same last name. For whatever reason, that struck me and a lot of the emotions of that day came back, and just like the last time we were at the site, tears began to fall. At that precise moment, some woman laid herself across the names of the dead I was looking at and with a big grin, took a selfie. I was appalled.

What is wrong with people? I wish I could say it was just Americans because heaven knows we have a well earned reputation for being particularly obnoxious, but in more languages than I care to count, I just got the sense people are treating this like any other tourist site, rather than the hallowed ground that it is. This is not Times Square. The Naked Cowboy, Elmo, Iron Man, or any of their ilk aren't here. Are people so oblivious and afflicted with such short-term memory issues that this Memorial is just another spot on their tour? My heart broke for a woman I saw today who wept at one of the names etched in the memorial. It was clear it was meaningful to her. And all around her, as she mourned, she got to hear things like, "Sid, where's a Starbucks?"

I don't pretend to be perfect and I know that I've committed my share of faux pas but I have tried to be respectful and reverent in places or situations that are hallowed or sacred to others. I'll never my forget my first trip to Rome when I was 17. I found myself with a group of Catholic kids from a private school in Dallas and they were all kinds of excited about going to the Vatican and for them, understandably so. I was amazed by the beauty there but shocked by the commercialism that surrounded the Vatican. There was someone selling Papal everything and anything within the walls of the Holy See. I struggled with that for quite some time. Many years later, during a trip to Istanbul, I remember visiting a mosque for the first time and being terrified I would do something to offend those in the mosque. I was so uneasy when learning that if we paid a few lire (yep, ancient times, people, before the Euro), we could see the men of the mosque praying during the call to prayer. Again, it seemed wrong to be doing that on what was something reverential to those of another faith. Just a few years ago, I found myself in Abu Dhabi, where I visited one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Before going, I read up on how to dress so as not to offend or be turned away. Inside one of the prayer areas, I, without thinking, picked up one of the Koran's that the faithful read from during prayers. Faster than you can say, "Die, infidel!" a security guard was at my side, taking the book from me and in stern, broken English, letting me know I could not touch any copies of that book. While relieved I was not on my way to living a remake of Midnight Express, I was embarrassed that I'd done something that might have been disrespectful in that place of worship.

I saw too much disrespect today at a place where nearly 3,000 people, innocent people, died. I saw too many people who really didn't seem to remember that fact. It didn't seem to be a place of reverence or one of hallowed ground. It was, like I said, just one more thing to check off on the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Schenectady" bus tour. The world could use a little more reverence and respect. Perhaps we'd be in a little bit better shape if we took the time to respect that which is holy or sacred to others, even if we may not understand why it means what it does to them. We've got to try to be better to one another. We just do.

No comments: