I was born and raised in New York City, have lived here most of my life, and was here on 9/11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attack. I visited the 9/11 memorial this year, 2011, ten years later, a few days after 9/11, on 9/13, and wrote the following: “People of all races are tracing paper over the names cut into the metal around the reflecting pools. Hispanic, Indian, Asian, firefighters, EMS groups. – Lots of firefighters here today, Tuesday, the second day this place is open to the public.
Lots of security to get in here, this is the best staffed public enterprise I’ve ever seen. I’m sure they’ll ease off on staff eventually, but I have to wonder who’s paying for the countless people reminding us to keep our tickets out, the tons of security personnel…
I remember the big heaps, “the pile,” and coming down here that first week when you could still smell the smoke so strong and the pile was still smoldering, and the pieces of outer wall of the towers, -fallen an crazy piercing angles atop the pile- looked as close to the gates of hell as anything I’m likely to see in this life or the next.
It was as if the visual I was seeing, reflected every hellish dream of nightmare artists or the imagineers of doom. This was “it,” this was what hell looked like, and it was right here in downtown New York City, the city that has everything, including, for a while, the gates of hell.
There’s a lot of construction work going on in the tower area, endless streams of grimy construction workers covered in the stains of welding and carrying and the hundreds of little struggles that go into building the shiny proud edifices that are going up around the site.
And the site itself is… Well, it’s striking, subtle, and overall, appropriate. The water that flows into the endless chasms, you can touch the water at the top, where it pools under the railings around the larger pools. The railings have everyone’s name engraved in them, laser-cut steel that somehow remains cool to the touch even in the hot sun. Must be some kind of special alloy.
So, at the top, a, 18-inch wide railing with names cut into it; under that, a low retaining wall with the upper lever of the water pooling under the railing, under the names.
From there, the water fall through thin sluices, about a ½ inch wide, hundreds of them side by side along the entire length of the wall, around all four sides, cascading water ceaselessly.
The waterfall, with its four even sides, each contained within what was once the area of one of the towers, streams in steady thin rivers that throw off enough droplets that there will be a day of rainbows here any time the sun is out.
At the bottom of the waterfall, there’s a pool with gentle evenly lapping waves across the entire surface. In the middle of this pool is the final touch, the one that hits home with a jarring visceral sneakiness; in the center of each of the reflecting pools, about 25 feet square, is a granite chasm, a hole that seems to go down forever, with water from the pool flowing down its sides, the granite squares causing the water to fan and foam gently as it goes ever down.
You can’t see the bottom from the top so it looks to go on forever.
Water, falling, falling again, into a void, into nowhere, into the center of the earth, into darkness, into the end of time.
It’s impressive, subtle, fitting.
The plaza is dotted with young trees, they don’t offer much shade today, but eventually, they will. The roots of them will rise up and tease at the light gray stone bricks that cover the floor of the plaza. That will happen. The Freedom Tower being built in one corner of the plot, that will be finished, instead of the empty construction shell that it is now. It has two American flags on it, one, huge, on the lower floors, hanging down vertically, the other about 50 stories up, horizontal, something to be seen from far.
The building will be finished soon, filled with office workers of the same racial and ethnic diversity that perished in the towers, filled with the descendents of everywhere in the world, who come together in New York City in mixed masses as they do nowhere else in the world; all of us living together, playing and loving together, working together, and on 9/11, 2001, dying together.
That is the final and ultimate nobility of New York, the city; the world is welcome here, can find a place here, a home, a chance to make themselves great. And that should there ever be trouble, rescuers of every race and religion will rush in to save others of similar diversity, disregarding mortal danger to do so. This is freedom, and underlying it all, self-imposed responsibility.
And even though that freedom and that responsibility were horribly abused on 9/11, this memorial will stand to remind of our great diversity, and the great level of casual acceptance that silently underpins it all, something that the 9/11 terrorists did not get to impact one little bit.