Just like always, I have struggled to even start this post. I toyed with the idea of doing a Vlog (video blog) and a podcast-type post because I felt like it needed to be heard, not just read, but alas, my insecurities got the best of me and so I’m going to write it just like I would any blog, with feeling and deep emotion.
I’m sure it seems like I make some small things out to be big and in your face things, if that’s true, it’s because I feel things very deeply. I am full of nostalgia for even some of my darkest memories and experiences because of where they have brought me and because of what I have learned through them. This time though, it’s no small thing.
The events of September 11, 2001 will never escape me, just as I’m sure they won’t escape anyone who is reading this who was older than, say, eight at that time. It was the first major horrific national event that I was old enough to remember and experience in my lifetime. That day changed thousands and thousands of peoples lives forever and will continue to affect us long into the future as our government continues to step and misstep in their efforts to protect our nation. It is for those and many more reasons that when Rocky and I were offered a trip to NYC, we knew that we would be visiting the 9/11 Memorial. We did not have any clue, however, how completely overwhelming it would be.
While many hundreds of people experience this now tourist attraction day in and day out, I would bet that every single one of them holds their time in the museum as closely to their hearts as I do, I saw it in their tears, I heard it in their silence.
The line was long and winding and it was raining outside, our feet were sore and soaked from walking all over the city. We’d done the Statue of Liberty already and really wanted to sit down on a dry bench after being misguided by a walkway that led us away from the memorial instead of right to it. But we stood in line with other rain-soaked people and waited patiently, and then finally it was our turn to step into the dry warmth of the museum. Even as we were standing in line, we could see one of the exhibits — two support structures from one of the towers, standing tall in the lobby, immediately inviting us into their history.
We took deep breaths and began our journey which took us down into what was once the parking garage of the World Trade Center. At first, there were simply scattered images and quotes playing from a projector on walls and thick cement beams, easing us into the magnitude of the place. Then we came up on somewhat of an observation deck that looked down, showing a massive cement wall with what looked like enormous studs and bolts sticking out of it. It’s called “The Slurry Wall” and was built to keep the towers from being flooded by the Hudson River. You can read more about it here. It was one of the only standing parts left after the buildings fell. In front of it now, are benches filled with sight-seers and mourners — again, all of them silent of their own accord, and glass exhibits housing a wide array of things that were pulled from the wreckage.
We made our way to the stairs and found another of the remaining structures: The Survivors Staircase. It was a jarring moment for sure. Those stairs represent life and rescue to so many people who survived the attack on the Twin Towers. The cement steps remained on location at Ground Zero, exactly where they had always been, for a long time while officials decided how to proceed with memorializing them. Today they sit in between the escalator and a staircase on the way down to the main exhibits of the museum. That was the most sobering escalator ride I’ve ever been on. Suddenly my cold, wet, sore feet didn’t matter to me anymore.
Walking around the corner from the staircase, my emotions were immediately — for lack of a better word — assaulted with the image of a twisted and mangled fire truck. I struggled for breath as the shock of it slipped away and I realized just what I’d committed to in walking through those doors upstairs. I had no idea what was ahead.I’m not going to share many pictures, in fact I don’t have too many from this part of the trip as cameras were banned in a large portion of the museum, but if you zoom in on the picture above, you can read about the heroes from the destroyed fire truck, Ladder Company 3, who gave their lives in order to rescue others. Additionally, Google has plenty of images for you to see if you’re so inclined.
I honestly don’t remember too much about the next few steps into that part of the museum. I was crying and it still felt like there was a lack of oxygen in the room as I made my way toward the wall we’d seen from above. In the middle of that observation room stood the support structure that became a memorial for many. It’s shown below before the museum was built (with the slurry wall behind it).
The column is full of pictures and messages of love, grief and gratitude. Some of them are copies, the originals preserved in a glass case just a few feet away.
All around are glass cases holding different artifacts and memorabilia: a blackened, soot covered axe, twisted metal and even clothes — baby clothes. At the far end of the room is a case with a brick from Bin Laden’s house, along with the story of that historic day and the shirt worn by one of the men that brought the terrorist down.
I almost thought about skipping the next part — there was a line and it wasn’t clear what they were heading in to. It was the part where cameras were banned. That should have prepared me. At first we walked in and very basically, went through the timeline of September 11th from beginning to end. There were pictures and quotes, a smattering of artifacts including a woman’s pair of blood-stained high-heels from a survivor. There were small vestibules that played 2-5 minute videos with actual recordings from air-traffic control towers and phone calls, etc.
As we moved from moment to moment in the timeline, the exhibits were more and more shocking. Half of a police car door, airplane windows, more clothes, bags, structural debris from the buildings, and quotes faded in and out on the walls.
This woman stood there for what seemed like minutes, then she held down her skirt and then stepped off the ledge. I thought, how human, how modest, to hold down her skirt before she jumped.
Yes, there were those images too, the ones of people jumping . . . falling. I can’t even describe what it was like to see it all, layed out, almost decorating the stands, platforms and walls. I was weepy the entire way through, but then we walked out of one video vestibule and right beside it on the wall was a piece of paper with handwriting on it. It said, “87th floor, west office. 12 people trapped.”
Except that selah means “Pause and calmly think of it”, so that is definitely not the right word.
Stop. Just stop.
I grabbed on to Rocky who was in front of me and sobbed into the back of his shoulder and I cry every time I think of that note. That piece of paper that survived while so many human lives were lost. At that point I felt like I was done. I wanted to get out, I wanted an easy escape, but this part of the museum is very much like a maze and while there are exits sensitively placed, I knew I couldn’t just walk away.
We walked around more airplane debris, more ruined vehicles including ambulances and bikes, more backpacks and shoes, vestibules and quotes. Just when I thought I’d reached the end and would be able to breathe again, we turned a corner and I froze. The room opened up in front of us into an overwhelming display of ruins. If we thought we’d seen a lot already, nothing could have prepared us for what we walked into. An entire store display sat against the wall, designer shirts on hangers, covered in dust and fragments of . . . everything. The iconic “cross” coincidentally formed from support beams that was pulled from the wreckage, a wheel from one of the airplanes, parts of the inner workings of the towers that were unrecognizable to me, phones and a mostly melted plastic desk address book — item after item after item making the event so much more real to those of us who weren’t there or weren’t personally connected to victims. Overwhelming isn’t a big enough word. At this point our silence was more from speechlessness than it was from respect and grief. It was too much and yet not enough all at the same time. I felt the walls closing in on me but I forced myself to stay and see it all — that’s not me inserting my own importance, it’s me being emotional and sensitive and knowing that I wanted to experience it all, that if it was the only thing I could offer as my sympathy, it was what I was going to give.
So we saw it all, and even with the gravity of what we took in, I can’t remember everything. The things that stick out, the fire truck, the wall, the stairs, the column, that piece of paper and the shoes, the quote . . . the airplane wheel . . . those will stay with me forever, just like the memories of the day it happened, like my mom waking me up to tell me what was happening, being glued to the TV and watching reporters breaking down on the air, and standing in line for hours at the blood bank on what was already a scheduled donation day for me. Then the aftermath: changing my flight from Vancouver to Seattle to get to YWAM Colorado Springs, spending hours in the airport while bags were searched, and being genuinely scared to fly for the first time in my life. And now the ever-present nervousness of seeing planes flying low near the city and wondering what will be next. What will my children have to live through? And Dear God, please let it be far from them.
I’ve struggled with how to describe in one sentence what the museum was like. I can’t use words like, amazing, incredible, or unbelievable because those words are so often used to describe the positive, but it was all of those things. Words like sobering and overwhelming are all I can really come up with to give an adequate idea, but even those words are lacking. I just shake my head, my mouth slightly agape. There are no words.