When you gather 30 wives of wounded warriors from around the nation, bringing them to New York City for a weekend, despite our various hobbies and interests, you can count on us all wanting to visit the same place – The 9/11 Memorial and Museum. 9/11 is why we came. 9/11 is why our husbands were wounded. 9/11 is why our lives are the way they are. 9/11 is why we carry the title of “Caregiver”. 9/11 is why we have cried ourselves to sleep countless nights. 9/11 is why we are proud of our husbands and the sacrifices they have made. 9/11 is why we care, why we commit, and why we cry. It’s all because of 9/11.
Before the towers fell on September 11, 2001, I had never heard of the World Trade Center. At the age of 23, I didn’t know much about New York, the economy, terrorism, or about anyone in the world hating America. I hadn’t understood the importance or the significance of those towers and I certainly couldn’t understand why anyone would want to bring them down. That all changed. At the age of 36, I finally made my first trip to NYC and the newly rebuilt World Trade Center was the first thing I wanted to see. As my driver made his way into the congested city, it was the very first thing he pointed out to me. Tower 1. The World Trade Center. Freedom Tower. The tower has many names but one purpose- it stands to reflect the strength, honor, and courage of the American people. It represents those who died, those who lived, those who fought, and those who are still fighting.
The Memorial grounds of the World Trade Center are beautifully symbolic of the tragedy that occurred on 9/11. The waterfalls and the giant “hole” left in the ground truly grabs at your heart, as do the names of the fallen that wrap around the edge of the pit. However, for me, it was the museum that moved my heart to tears. Upon entering the museum, I met the reality of the enormity of not only the building that once towered where I stood, but also of the tragedy that occurred when it fell down. As I slowly passed through a long corridor, my eyes fixated on a large beam suspended on the wall above me. That beam… that shape… that design… I would recognize it anywhere. I remember watching men and women jump to their deaths in front of these beams as news reporters tried desperately to make sense of what was happening that day. To see that beam in front of me made the tragic events of that day all the more real. It made the pain more personal. It made my husband’s service more commendable. It made the loss even more tragic.
Walking through the massive cavity of the memorial was an intense experience all of its own. Markers placed throughout the museum indicated where we were standing in comparison with the original building. The ginormity (is that a word?) of the museum lent to my understanding of what it must have felt like to be but one person in a sea of falling rubble that day. The creators of this memorial have found a way, using the most minimalistic forms of design, to convey the hallowed sanctity of the empty space. The vast expanse of air in the museum seemed as important an artifact as each piece of rubble, each picture, each name.
I have no idea how long I walked around inside the museum. There are only so many pieces of twisted steel that you can look at. Only so many pictures of crying New Yorkers that you can take in. Only so many crushed helmets of rescue workers you can pray over before it all becomes just too much. Before my “battle buddy” and I departed the museum, we witnessed a horrific atrocity that humanized evil for us once again. Standing before a large photo depicting the burning and falling towers on 9/11, a family of foreign descent stood before them- mocking, joking, laughing, pretending to fall with the towers as their loved ones snapped photos. Anger raged up inside of me as it did inside the wounded warrior wife at my side. Neither one of us could speak. Neither one of us could begin to comprehend what was happening in front of us. Neither one of us knew how to civilly approach this family, defend our nation, or correct the behavior, so we left. I only hope my eyes conveyed to them the anger that was in my heart.
How dare someone mock the tragedy that occurred in that sacred place? How dare someone make light of the pain that is still bore today by countless families? How dare someone laugh at the death of thousands of human lives? How dare someone include their child in such a vile display of cruelty? How dare someone hijack an airplane full of innocent civilians and fly them into a tower? How dare someone strap a bomb to their child and send them on a suicide mission into the streets? How dare evil encroach upon the innocent? MY innocent. MY land. MY country. MY home. MY people. MY husband. MY friends. How could evil do this?
I’ve been home from New York for two weeks, now. I still have not been able to form words that would describe the feelings I had that day at the museum. I walked away with anger, hurt, pain, gratitude, resolve, and hope. An interesting collaboration of feelings pushed me to sit down and write about it today. I have no conclusion. No closure. No epiphany. No summation of the experience. All I can say is, may we never forget 9/11.