I also lived in Washington, DC for a year, and visited the Vietnam Wall multiple times, each visit accompanied by unbidden weeping, especially on days when there were a lot of tributes left at the base of the wall. There is a reverence at these memorials, and everyone feels it, I think. I was at the Vietnam Memorial when three busloads of young teenage girls touring the capital, started their walk down into the V-shaped depression. Laughing, joking at the beginning, the young women soon fell to silence, and by their exit at the other end, tears. So I knew what I was in for, when Chad, Barbara and I got tickets to this memorial. They were timed tickets, and ours was at 4:45 p.m., but we were able to get in about 30 minutes earlier--just at sunset.
There is another entry place, and we unload our coats, backpacks, belts to walk through their scanners, just as if we were taking an airplane ride somewhere. Solemnity. In boatloads. Dressing back up for the cold, we walk down a path, then a turn, then another path, then around the Ground Zero site, zig-zagging our way to the entrance, where our tickets were scanned for the third time. And then you're there. You see the tall "Freedom Tower" rising first above the site (above), then the south pool and then as you scan, the north pool.
As I talked to Chad, a man volunteered to take our photo, his wife at his side. We thanked him, and Chad moved on more quickly than I, as I wanted to linger. Barbara was already at the far side of the first pool. This man also took the photo at the end of this post, as we met up with him again. That time he told us it was his first visit to the Memorial; he had worked in the PATH station, deep below the twin towers that day. He was in the epicenter of the trauma, as was my brother David, walking between the towers when the second plane hit. We are all connected to this horror, by our connections to each other.
The visitors generally start with the south pool, where the New York City Policemen begin the array of engraved names. There is an order to the listing, but I didn't consult my carefully downloaded phone app. There's really no need for it, unless you are trying to find someone specific. I wasn't. I was there to pay homage to them all.
The engraved names hover at the perimeter of the waterfalls, which cascade into a flat black pool. And at the center of this, another square--an infinity pool where the water falls, of which you can't see the bottom.
The names are engraved, then this slab is lighted from below, so the glow filters up through the etched-out words. Everyone once in a while, I spotted a rosebud, or a flag. They are building a museum onsite which will hold the momentos that will surely be left by visitors.
A shaky video clip of the falls.
As I studied this site, trying to notice the architectural details, the reflection of the lights rimming the bottom of the falls look as if they veer off into another dimension.
I am fascinated by this idea--of seeing an overlay of design--the lights reflected against the black granite. I find myself focusing on these details as the feelings seem to have risen in my throat--not tears, really, but this kind of thick feeling, familiar to me from my time at the Vietnam Memorial. What else can I feel but horror, sadness, grief? I remember that day, as do many, of being glued to the television, switching channels, trying to comprehend what was really going on. What was going on? Who knew that it would change so much of our lives?
When I was a younger woman, deep in writing classes, I often bemoaned to my husband that I seemed to only be able to see a small slice of life, a bubble. I longed to have the bigger picture that my father, my mother seemed to have. I now realize, as I have aged, that this "big picture" seeing comes with living, comes with just being on the planet and going through experiences and interacting with humanity, both on the personal and on the public level. Education helps, of course, but it's mostly growing older. This has allowed me to see so much more of other people's lives, and I can envision and even imagine their pain, their suffering, their joys and triumphs. But there is an unforeseen drawback to this acquired vision: that because I can now see the bigger vision, places like this Memorial are part sorrow, part anguish.
I long for a wee bit of humanity within this majestic homage to suffering.
I go to find my children.