Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Apple, Part II: Pilgrimage to Ground Zero

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were all bundled up, ready to face the morning chill in the Big Apple on Sunday when we ran smack into a small delay. Waiting along with a dozen or so other folks outside the elevator on the fifth floor of the Park Central Hotel in midtown Manhattan, we all realized at about the same moment that something was amiss.

The first hint? The fact that there were a dozen of us waiting to cram onto an elevator that might hold half our number. A moment later, after hearing cars whooshing up and down and all about, someone reached the front desk and learned that all was not right with the elevator and it would be awhile before it would be stopping on our floor.

What to do? Those hearty and adventurous enough to trek down five flights of stairs headed for a nearby exit. The stairwell was what you’d expect – a fireproof concrete bunker with metal rails, filled with twists and turns; good lighting, poor signage, funky smells and a few dead ends. It was a memorable descent, handled without incident.

The episode is only worth mentioning because of where Wendy and I were headed – the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero on the southern tip of Manhattan. Our very little setback continued rattling about my noggin as Wendy and I found the right subway – in our case, the C train – to reach Fulton Street. The stop is just north of the Financial District and a short – if frigid – walk to the memorial site.

All about are skyscrapers, shadowy canyons and dark memories. This is the area of the city that was filled with chaos a decade or so ago; dust, debris and people fleeing the death and destruction caused when the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center were toppled by terrorists.

There are at least five security checkpoints around the memorial, one filled with the same sort of scanners and sensors you’ll find when flying. After showing your ticket – it’s free, but you need to request it online in advance of your visit – and passing through security, you walk through one final gate and find yourself standing in front of a large, mostly barren plaza.

This is where a complex of seven buildings, including the landmark Twin Towers, was situated. The towers – they were once the two tallest buildings in the world – were destroyed and the other buildings were left irreparably damaged. The entire complex was flattened and the site is now being rebuilt with five news skyscrapers and a memorial to the 2,977 victims who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

The memorial spreads across several blocks of space and includes two massive fountains, one at the base of what was once the North and South Towers. They are surreal and other worldly in design, water tumbling down from the surface, 30 feet into a reflecting pool that spills into a distant opening.

The names of the victims from each tower and the first responders who died in their heroic efforts to reach people before the buildings collapsed are inscribed on metal panels around the fountains. But it’s the flowing water that takes center stage, reflecting the day’s light, constantly moving, shifting about and tumbling off into the distance.

The movement is a shadowy reminder of the tragedy and despite the water tumbling away, it seems to me that in a fashion everything is actually moving forward. Look long and hard enough, and down becomes up, the water – perhaps the souls of those loss – being elevated in our collective hearts and minds.

Once finished, the entire area will be nicely landscaped, complete with trees, shrubbery and flowers. New skyscrapers, filled with thousands of workers, will overlook the site and life, yet again, will continue day by day.

Ground Zero, however, will remain sacred ground; a melancholy spot and a place to recall a desperate moment when time stopped and the world stood still.

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