Taken for Granted: Visiting 'the memorial' in New York City

For 10 years it was called “Ground Zero.” Today, New Yorkers refer to it as “the memorial” and when construction of the five surrounding buildings and museum are complete, it may reclaim the name World Trade Center.

We visited the site last week.

The two reflecting pools, situated on the square footprint of the original Twin Towers, form the heart of the memorial. A waterfall drops from each side of the square, flows to a smaller square opening in the center of the pool forming a second water fall as it drops precipitously to the original subterranean base of the Twin Towers.

The effect is a somber one and evokes the designers theme, “Reflecting Absence.” Water, the life force, flows peacefully down each side of the square and then plunges ominously into a dark, eternal abyss. It is a simple and tasteful design that profoundly echoes the fall of the towers and the end of many lives at this hallowed place.

The pools are surrounded by 416 white oak trees, which fittingly change to bright autumn colors before losing their leaves as the 9/11 anniversary date approaches each year.

Inscribed in bronze on the facing of the parapets surrounding each pool are the names of those who perished on 9/11 in the towers, on Flights 175, 11, and 93, at the Pentagon and in the 1993 basement bombing of the towers. The names have been grouped with colleagues, friends and in too many cases, family and relatives. One young woman's name appears with the phrase “and unborn child.”

Everyone has a sharp recollection of that terrible day. My company had a small office in the North Tower, which I had visited on occasion. Our chief executive was in the city that week for a Thursday meeting in the towers with the investment brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald.

On business trips to New York, we usually stayed at the Trade Center Marriott, but on this occasion, he booked himself into a midtown hotel. I remember being awakened before dawn by his frantic phone call telling me that one of the towers had been hit by a plane and that fortunately, none of our staff were in the office that morning.

I guess he thought that being a native New Yorker, it would be of particular interest to me, which it was. Nonetheless, I went back to bed for another half hour oblivious to the meaning and possible consequences of the event.

Two-thirds of the approximately 1,000 employees at Cantor Fitzgerald were killed.

We set up an alternative office in New Jersey and our staff spent the next month attending funerals throughout the metropolitan area. About a week after the attack, one of our New York staff members received a nervous phone call from a woman asking his name. When he gave it, she replied, “Thank God you're alive.”

The smoke plume had carried one of his business cards across the bay from Manhattan to her Brooklyn back yard. She waited a week, fearing he might be dead. When curiosity got the better of her, she hesitantly made the call.

The day we visited the memorial was a crisp, clear autumn day, not unlike that Sept. 11 on which thousands of individuals gave the ritual goodbye kiss to spouses and kids, marveled at the beautiful day and set off as they had done on countless other days for their place of work.

Later that day, 2,976 of them, of every age, from virtually every country, ethnic background and religious faith, perished. Their names and pictures read like a montage of the millions who have come to our shores seeking a better life, struggling to learn the language, history and ways of this multicultured and confusing phenomenon we call America.

The victims of 9/11 died because a fanatical group chose violence as a way of expressing their failure to comprehend the opportunities we offer to the world as “the last, best hope of mankind.”

The sense of national loss experienced in New York lingers, as it did when we visited the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, or the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance in Washington.

As a nation, we do not forget the innocent victims of terror, nor the first responders and those in military service who courageously choose to risk their lives to keep us safe.

PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at tfgranted@gmail.com.

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