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.