Earlier today (Wednesday) I visited for the first time the 9/11 Memorial and the Memorial Museum. Its awesomeness overwhelmed me.
I went there with my cousin and his friend who are visiting from Israel, where the culture of memorializing the Holocaust, fallen soldiers and terror victims, is prevalent. Though used to this ethos they too were overawed.
As we stood by the South Pool of the memorial the friend was visibly upset about the ease with which visitors can lean on the black marble that contains the names of the 9/11 victims. He thought that doing so was tantamount to desecrating the victims.
“Don’t you feel that way?” he wanted to know.
I didn’t. On the contrary. I felt that whenever a visitor touches the marble, whenever he or she rubs an engraved name however randomly, they create an instant connection to that name. Touching those engraved letters that forms the name of a person whose life was lost so abruptly in that terrorist attack affects one emotionally in an instant.
“What do you feel when you look at the pool?” he wanted to know.
“Continuity, triumph” I said. The movement and sound of the circulating water made me feel that way. Life goes on. The human spirit cannot be defeated in spite of the enormity of the tragedy.
“Interesting though,” he said. “I don’t feel that way. I feel hopelessness.” The smaller inner pool in the center of the larger body of water reminded him of people jumping to their death. Plunging to an abyss from where there is no way out.
Either way, the memorial’s architects accomplishment was immense.
Inside the museum my cousin was disturbed by its enormous size. He felt it was too impersonal. What moved him most was a small item on display: the wristwatch of one of the victims. Or the photo of the people walking downs the survivors’ staircase. I explained that the size of the museum was equivalent to the area where the building stood. It was built over their foundations. He understood but he wasn’t convinced. He needed a small quiet corner to reflect on what happened that day. To meditate. To feel the heartbreak in a more intimate setting.
That was before he saw the heart of the exhibit. The artifacts. After two hours in the museum I had to leave without visiting that section where he went and to where I’ll return. I haven’t spoken with my cousin yet to hear his impression of that part. I’m sure we’ll both find it hard to sleep tonight.
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