Wednesday, September 12, 2007

About trying to find ground zero

Last May we had a conference for work in New York City. Our days were filled with work stuff, but we managed to steal a few hours everyday to see the stuff on our lists.
On Saturday, before I flew home, we had a full morning planned. After a Starbucks run for breakfast, we took off walking down Adams Street towards the Brooklyn Bridge. We'd walked across the Manhattan Bridge earlier in the week, and the views just took our breath away.
The Brooklyn was even better. On the Manhattan, the walkway was next to the road, but of course the Brooklyn is elevated, and you feel on top of the world.
But I came to a point near the apex, with the Statue of Liberty to my left, and all Manhattan in front of me, and the walkway full of walkers, bikers, commuters and tourists, that made me flash back a minute.
Because where we were headed was the former site of the World Trade Center, the former Ground Zero, the part of the New York skyline that isn't there anymore. That thought took my breath away, too.
And as we walked through the cool, sunny spring morning, I realized it was a lot like that morning in September 2001. And I was on the very bridge that so many people walked over, escaping the terror, that day, people covered in dust and debris and worse. People looking nothing but shell-shocked. People putting one foot in front of the other, thinking only of getting home. People whose lives had been touched -- shattered -- by something that I had just watched on TV.
Because sometimes I feel like, as much talk as I've heard, and TV I've watched, and stuff I've read, my life has been pretty untouched by 9/11. Oh, I take my shoes off when we fly like the best of them, and my ID is at the ready, but really...we were lucky. We live far away, we didn't know anyone killed or injured. Mostly, it seemed surreal--
Until that May day.
Once we got over the bridge, we weren't really sure where to go, or just how far away the site was. So we hauled out a map, and tried to calculate how far we might have to walk, and did we have to take the subway, and how long that might take.
So we wandered down the street, and came to a info kiosk, and gathered 'round to reconnoiter.
Our talking and pointing drew the attention of a nicely dressed young man who worked in a nearby store.
"Where are you trying to go?" he asked.
"World Trade Center," we said. "Do we have to get on the subway?"
"It's right there," he said, pointing behind us. "Just right there."
Well, we laughed -- and I'm sure he had a good laugh at us -- and felt pretty stupid, but ya know, we're from Indiana, and the main landmark is just not there anymore, so how were we to know?
So just a block over, we found St. Paul's Chapel that had survived, somehow, and had been the rescue center, and then the cemetery behind it, and of course, the site itself just behind that. And spent a quiet hour looking at the chapel's displays, and reading the plaques, and taking in the cemetery, and, finally, crossing the street to what's now a big construction site. Oh, there's huge pictures, and more plaques, and tributes, and contemplative people looking at it all, but it was hard to imagine both things: the behemoth buildings that had once filled the space, or the smoking, sacred debris that the buildings (and the people in them) became.
So on my desk at work, is a picture: It's the view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, before the reluctant planes took the towers away. The wooden sidewalk stretches to the distance, and the wonderful, stringy symmetry of the supporting cables, and all the skyline, meaning the twin towers, too.
Today, I looked at the picture, and remembered the river of people, and how I finally found Ground Zero.
How about you? What were you rememberin'?

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