The 9/11 Memorial Experience: Come on down, but prepare yourself for tears

My phone battery was low, but thankfully all I needed was two eyes to see what was in right front of me: the 9/11 Memorial and Museum along with the Freedom Tower.

If you asked me what I wanted to go see in this world during the past eight years, the answer was simple: the Memorial and Tower. Forget Italy, the Bahamas, or Hawaii. The moment I stepped out of my Uber off Fulton Street, I was instantly intimidated. The Freedom Tower stares you down right off 46th Street, peering down at you as if to say, “come on down, but prepare yourself.”

I made my way to the First Tower Memorial, a giant cascading waterfall that pummels down into a smaller waterfall and structure. It’s a true work of art. Rounding out the bronze roofing of the structure are all the names lost in the terrible tragedy nearly 18 years ago. Every name hits you like a ton of bricks, and they all come from various ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. I started saying them out loud, as if to remind the universe they once had blood flowing through their veins and a purpose above ground.

I walked around, bought a few mementos from the souvenir stand, and then proceeded to the other Tower Memorial. More names, more feels, and an overwhelming sense of sadness. I know it was the strength derived from tragedy that should stand out, but at the end of the day, it’s sadness and anger.

Everybody got knocked down that day. Anybody with a good heart got knocked down that day. Nearly two decades later, we are still climbing off the canvas. I stopped walking around at various moments and just stared into the fountains, knowing full well that people were crushed in the very spot I stood breathing today. That’s a morbid way to look at things, but when it comes to the worst tragedy in American history, you can’t escape it.

Here’s what cheered me up. All the parents and grandparents who brought their young kids to the park. The kids were invested, looking at the names, asking questions, and learning about a dark day that reassured human beings that the good and bad still wage war on each other. I saw that and felt more at ease. Kids, teenagers, and young people have to know what happened that day. They weren’t around or were too young to comprehend it back in 2001. It’s a never-ending YouTube rabbit hole dive you never forget for those young souls. For us, it’s a replay of a terrible day. A sunny Tuesday in New York turned dusty and black.

An hour later, I left. Due to time constraints, I had to get moving to the airport, but in another time, I could have sat there for hours, taking out a book or just looking around more. Some things need more attention than others, and I’ll choose an historical site over an aquarium or standard museum any day of the week.

As I left, I looked at a few names and without looking up their origin, started breaking down what they were doing that day. I imagined him or her getting up in the morning, grabbing coffee while making plans in their head. He was mad about his job or tried to forget about having to mow the lawn. She was disrupted by a meeting the previous day, tried to brighten the mood with a plan to take the kids for ice cream. And then I realize they never made it home.

9/11 reminded me of the sweet and the bitter all rolled into one. How the human species can destroy, get knocked down, and heal itself all in a matter of weeks. Nothing has changed 18 years later. We are still at odds with each other, easily offended, quick to violence, and overly guarded. That’s the sad part. I don’t think we learned much from 9/11.

That’s why going to the 9/11 Memorial, and if you have time, the Museum. Go there and get humbled.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

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