I stood in line aside other wandering eyes waiting to get through the metal detectors. It looked exactly like airport security, except it wasn’t in an airport.
Last weekend, I visited the 9/11 Museum in New York City.
And, well, it was hard to walk through. I was crying the entire time. People around me were crying the entire time. I watched individuals in their moments of true honesty– I saw some cup their mouths and walk away while others couldn’t bare take their eyes off what they were seeing. Displayed on the walls were real depictions of September 11th, 2001. It showed real footage, real quotes, real artifacts, real, real, real. The museum portrayed the bare truth during that crisp, clear day 13 years ago. That’s all the guides kept noting: it was a crisp, clear, beautiful day gone completely awry. The whole museum is an honest, disturbing portrayal of everything that went on.
But I’m happy this experience shook me inside-out. For those of you who don’t know, my mom worked in the World Trade Center in building seven. Her building wasn’t the two main towers and it wasn’t directly hit, but my mom was there. There. Downtown. In New York City. Not far away at all from the main towers. She experienced everything that happened alongside other New York workers. My mom’s office window was blown out from a ball of fire and her building eventually collapsed, too. She was there, a place she had come to know dearly over the years. A place that gave her much happiness.
While we were in the museum, my mom said something that really stung me. Her words radiated through me and imprinted themselves onto my bones.
“All I kept thinking about that day was you and Daddy. I just thought, ‘I’m never going to see you grow up.’ I didn’t know if there was a chance I would make it back home to you.”
After she said that, my inner first grader flashed back to the embrace my mom gave me when she finally got home. That crisp morning, my dad had a direct view of the Twin Towers from his office in Jersey City. He happened to be on the phone with my mom when the first plane hit, and warned her when he saw it coming. After first crash, my mom didn’t know if her building was damaged at all. At the time, my mom didn’t know if there were other complications coming, either. She just didn’t know. And for someone who usually has something to say, I couldn’t sympathize with my mom. But the story of my mother’s experience that day will be something I hold close to my heart for as long as I live.
In the museum, there are two parts that are sectioned off. The first one I encountered was the Memorial Exhibition. It was an entire room with pictures of close to 3,000 beautiful, innocent souls who lost their lives that day. In that room is a smaller room where audio recordings play about the victims. It states their name, a short biography of their life and what brought them to the Twin Towers that morning. A majority of them even have a loved one speaking on their behalf.
I sat through probably 10 of the recordings, along with many other quiet, listening individuals before I had to leave; tears were streaming my cheeks and I just couldn’t bare it. I noticed a guard standing in the room, most likely because photo taking/video recording is strictly prohibited in this area. I got to thinking… that guard has to stand in that room and listen. Listen to the thousands of stories one after the other. I thought about how horrible it must be to have that job; some of the stories are happy or funny, but all of them are equally heartbreaking. Except I was simply thinking on the surface of it all. I was tainted with the image that each story had to be automatically sad. But I soon realized that the victims’ stories remind us they are still human. They’re not just a statistic, or picture on the wall. Their stories live on, so their soul does, too.
After experiencing this exhibit, 9/11 will become a day for me where I can celebrate the victims’ lives. They all had a special place in the Twin Towers, after all. And I can guarantee a few things: the victims were successful people, they had family and friends and people who loved them, and they worked in one of the best cities in America. I think that is definitely something to take in, note, and celebrate for.
The next room was an exhibit that is designed to take you at least 45 minutes to walk through. There is one official exit, but as you walk, you notice there are doors to “leave early.” Before you go in, there is a sign that reminds what you will be seeing consists of graphic and disturbing content. Another worker outside of the exhibit insists absolutely no photography or video recording is allowed.
I couldn’t not go in. I needed to know it all; I needed to know every last detail of our nation’s tragedy. It sounds twisted, I know– but, it’s not meant to be that way. Every part of this exhibit offered something I found myself forcing my legs to up and walk away from. I wanted to take everything about this day in. But one part… this one part of the exhibit I couldn’t bare to read the whole way through. It was about the victims who jumped from their office windows. I won’t go off into detail about this, but the museum recognizes the ones who made this decision to be exceptionally human and modest.
I don’t mean to sound morbid; in fact, I’m writing so people are more aware. Because before I went to this museum, yeah, I knew the gist of 9/11. But that’s all: just the gist. We know as individuals September 11th is a day that will be forever remembered, so we’re already aware, yes. But I think this museum is a part that makes this nation whole. It makes our awareness more whole. It’s not until you hear recordings of the victims on the plane, dialing to their loved ones that you realize 9/11 taught us more than recognizing it was a terrorist attack. It is awareness about al Qaeda; it is awareness that our government will do anything in it’s power to protect us from terrorism; it is awareness that all of the victims were true heroes; and it is awareness about our nation’s sense of community despite what some people think. The hours that I spent within this museum has made me hold a much tighter grip on life than ever before. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true nonetheless.
After I left the museum, I wanted access to my laptop right away. I needed to let everyone know what I saw and how I felt about it, just like any writer should. But I don’t think I can put everything I saw into the appropriate words. The museum is more than a lesson in history books, it’s more than a Google search, it’s more than a video on YouTube. Take one day to spend in the city and visit this museum. You’ll probably leave with tear stains on your cheeks, but you’ll be more whole, more aware, more appreciative. This blog post doesn’t nearly do the museum justice– it’s something you need to experience for yourself, and you’ll know what I mean when you visit.
Rest in peace to all of the beautiful angels that lost their lives on this day, and thank you to everyone who risked theirs to help in the aftermath.
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” — Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl