Solemn Reflection at the National September 11 Memorial

September 11, 2001. Any American who is old enough to remember that day can tell you where they were, what they were doing when they found out first one plane, then another, flew into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. I was not living in New York City at that time, but the memories of that day bring back feelings as strong as they were 15 years ago. It was the day before a new semester began, and I was working at home to prepare for the next day’s classes. I turned on the TV to watch the news as I sipped my morning coffee. Only minutes earlier, a plane crashed into the North Tower, but no one knew exactly what had happened. I watched in horror, along with millions of other people, as a second plane hit the South Tower a short time later.

I continued watching over the next several hours, a silent, sorrowful witness to the ultimate collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, the crash of yet another plane into the Pentagon, a final plane crash in Pennsylvania. I observed firsthand the loss of thousands of lives – something impossible to fully comprehend. How was I to go into the classroom the next day and teach when the world had been turned upside down?

Over time I have come to think of those memories less often, but it only takes a moment to recall how I felt on that terrible day. In the meantime, I’ve moved to New York City myself. I see the new towering One World Trade Center building, commonly known as the Freedom Tower, on a regular basis. I now teach many students who, even though they were alive on September 11, 2001, were so young that they don’t really remember that day. Additionally, an entire generation has been born in the 15 years since the Towers fell – a generation that will come of age in a post-9/11 world.

Despite the passage of time, September 11 has had an enduring effect on New York City and New Yorkers. The city has proved its resilience. New Yorkers take a great amount of pride in the way that they responded. There has been a sense of community uniquely forged in the fire of tragedy. Despite the fact that New York City clearly remains a target, New Yorkers go about their daily lives with purpose, a determination to carry on despite any adversity.

At the site of the Twin Towers, visitors now find the National September 11 Memorial. A multiple-layer set of waterfalls, framed in black granite, descend from the outline of each building deep into the ground. Inscribed on the surrounding walls of each footprint are the names of all those who lost their lives that day – the passengers, pilots, and crew members on board each of the 4 planes; the workers and visitors in the Twin Towers who were unable to evacuate the buildings before they fell; those who lost their lives inside the Pentagon; and the hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and others who sacrificed their lives in the attempt to save others. (The Memorial also commemorates 6 people who lost their lives in a terrorist bombing in the World Trade Center garage in 1993.)

In honor of those who lost their lives 15 years ago this weekend, here are a few pictures from the National September 11 Memorial. It is impossible to include photos of every name, but I wanted to give a sense of the solemnity of the site for those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

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22 thoughts on “Solemn Reflection at the National September 11 Memorial

  1. I lived and worked across the river in Jersey City at the time. After hearing the news reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center I went down to the atrium of the building where I worked and as I was watching the second plane hit. The scene that is most etched in my memory was on the docks in Jersey City where I was helping load food and supplies into boats for the rescue workers. As one of the boats came back from the WTC site a tough looking, rugged and exhausted fireman got off the boat. As he got closer I saw the tears streaming down his face.

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  2. Not just Americans who have that day etched in their memories. i haven’t seen this memorial ye, but I’d like to. It looks as if it will be moving in the same way as the Vietnam memorial in Washington – simple, but profound at the same time.

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    1. I think it does have a very similar effect, Anabel. There is something about the simplicity, with all those names, that really has an impact. The other thing that really struck me the first time I saw it is how small the footprint of each building really is. Somehow, I expected the square waterfalls to be bigger in diameter.

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  3. Anisa

    I didn’t move to NYC until 2004 and I can’t imagine what it was like at the time. I think they did an amazing job with the Memorial. I also really love the tribute in light they do every year. I will be watching the reading of the names tomorrow too.

    I also really enjoyed the museum, I want to go back and spend more time there.

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    1. I’ve yet to see the museum – it’s something that I want to do in some ways, but in other ways I’ve just had a hard time bringing myself to do it. It is a powerful thing to see the tribute in lights each anniversary though, and hear so many names being read aloud.

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  4. A very well-written piece, which conveys the solemnity of this tragic ‘anniversary’. I fall into the category of people too young to remember the event itself, but I visited the memorial and museum when I was in New York last summer and found it to be very moving. It’s been well designed, and I found the information to be comprehensive – though even with all the detail, it’s impossible to fully comprehend such an event.

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  5. Wow. A powerful post and one that has brought back memories. I was at a conference in Grenwich (uk) on that day…amidst rumours that Canary Wharf was another target, a terrifying day. I don’t think I will ever erase the pictures of those poor desperate people leaping out of windows…it still hurts. Although not a New Yorker or an American I felt sick and traumatised by that day’s events and it is a feeling I’ll never forget.

    We visited the memorial this May and were very moved. beautiful and peaceful, but for me a place of sadness, which is OK isn’t it?

    Thanks for posting this.

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  6. Thank you for remembering those horrible events so simply and movingly. The lack of hype and the recording and reading of names is very powerful. This was done at the commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising on August 1, and I came across another two monuments of names from the Ghetto Uprising the other day. Around the city there are other lists of people executed by the Germans “at this place”. Names are so personal.

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    1. They really are. The first photo alao lists someone’s unborn child, meaning that she was pregnant. That really hit me somehow, knowing that her family was morning two losses that day, not just one. Numbers seem so impersonal, but seeing the names somehow makes it more real.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your experience of this horrific day in American history. It’s hard to imagine the scene from 15 years ago on a peaceful day like the day pictured here. That morning, I was on my way to a book group discussion at my Episcopal church; everyone was frantic when I arrived as our woman priest had just found out about the Pentagon attack; her husband was working at the Pentagon and she couldn’t get through to him. It took a long while for her to find out, but he was safe. Too many people were not so lucky. A sad reminder.

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  8. I was at Ground 0 last year when I visited America. It’s a place that brings mixed feelings. From one side – sadness and emptiness (especially when looking down the fountains which bottoms you cannot see). From the other – energy and hunger of life (with all these newly built sky-scrapers which tops you cannot see 😉

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