Photo by: Karen E. Rosenberg

9/11 Memorial

by Karen E. Rosenberg
Photo by: Karen E. Rosenberg

My heart ached. I sucked in my breath. My eyes filled with tears.

I did not expect to have this reaction to the 9/11 Memorial.

I expected to see a nice monument with the names of those that lost their lives in the towers and on the planes. What I got was so much more. No picture, no articles, no first-hand accounts had prepared me.

A sense of emptiness engulfed me when I first spotted the shrine. In the middle of the tall buildings, busy streets, and crowded subways, there was space. The skyscrapers above me, so tall. The monument, sinking into the ground. And within that hole, another hole – a dead space. The blackness filling up with tears from the water flowing down. New York reflected in the water around the edges.

And the names. So many names surrounding the tears. People from the towers; co-workers linked together forever. Names from the flights and from the Pentagon. Names of first responders that gave their lives that day. Small, white roses placed in some of the names marking a loved one’s birthday.

Memories of September 11, 2001 flooded back, filling my head with clear visions of that day and the nights that followed. I cried. I cried big, ugly tears in the early hours of a beautiful summer day. A day similar to the one almost seventeen years earlier. Light blue skies and puffy white clouds. Today, the sky would stay clear; on that day, the world became obliterated with smoke and fire.

I remember my brother calling, asking where my dad was and telling me to turn on the TV. I went to my baby’s room, not even a year old, and my husband and I watched the footage, not believing. Frantic calls to mom and dad until I found out he had traveled to Las Vegas that week; stuck, but safe.

My friend’s husband was a pilot. I packed up my baby and went to my friend’s house to help with her newborn and three-year-old while she made calls to track down her husband and family from New York. I went not for her, but for me. I had to do something, something that felt like helping.

I remembered it all so vividly, like I was reliving it. Reliving my mom’s hugs, her wanting to see all three of her grown children that day, even though we lived near Chicago, not New York.

I thought about the days that followed, the sky eerily quiet, no planes passing overhead. I relived the following nights. We, like many others, slept with the TV on as we watched Tom Brokaw become more disheveled with each passing, sleepless hour. Husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, parents, children, walking around with pictures of their missing relatives. Stories of heroes helping others. Watching people jump to their deaths over and over again. The pictures still clear in my mind.

As I walked, I heard a father explaining to his son about Flight 93 and the heroes who fought the hijackers and caused the plane to crash into a field rather than another building full of people. A father making sure his children understood the importance of that day and the heroes it made.

I passed others, enjoying the beauty of the memorial, taking smiling pictures. Understanding the significance to this place and the beauty in a different way than I did.

I met a docent who explained the Survivor Tree; a pear tree that somehow survived the attack, was nursed back to health, and replanted back at the memorial site. A symbol of hope.

We said things would never be the same after that day, and we were right. Our children now live in a world with long lines in airports, made longer by having to take off our shoes. We worry about terrorist attacks in a way we never did before. ISIS has become part of our vocabulary.

The worst change is how some Americans view Muslims and the overwhelming change in America’s bigotry. The news stories in the aftermath of 9/11 were not just about lost loved ones, but about hatred and violence towards anyone that looked Muslim. Something that continues to this day.

We must teach our children about that day. Part of what we teach them must be how we came together – how the world came together. We must teach them that it was a small group that perpetrated this hate crime and that it is small group that spouts hate and bigotry today. We must teach them to stand up to hate when they see it. For, in words of the magnet I bought that day, “Love is stronger than hate.”

Karen Rosenberg is a wife, mother, writer, and actress. She is currently working on 2 YA novels, performs with The Mystery Shop, and is a costumed volunteer and Naper Settlement. You can follow her on Tumblr – http://kegofroses.tumblr.com/ and Twitter – https://twitter.com/karenelyse2.

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