Reflecting Absence: 9/11 Memorial Site
It was a warm and humid July evening in New York City. Walking inside New York City is quite unlike anything else in the world, especially on the lower east side. When you’re young there is a certain sense of restlessness when you are inside the city, because you aren’t quite sure what you should do. You are excited to be there, and you want to do what tourists are most fond of. When you grow older (thirty something), you appreciate the a pristine ever present energy inside the city which grips you, and never leaves you until you get to the other side of the tunnel.
For reasons I still don’t know why – I decided to move out of Queens (where I was staying for three days) to live in Jersey for the next two days. I am supposed to get on a plane from JFK to visit mum in two days. As far as I know, you need to get under either the Holland tunnel or the Lincoln tunnel, or go over the George Washington bridge to get outside of New York City – and take it from me, each of those options are worse than the other two. Have you ever tried to fit a T-REX into an erlenmeyer flask ? If you have tried it, then you know how it is to go to Jersey from New York – especially in a cab. Hell, most cabs inside the city don’t even go to Brooklyn or Jersey (Jersey is even worse, you know, with it being another state and all).
But, since I made that ingenious decision I decided to live with it. You take a PATH underground train from Jersey into the city. That is by far the best option that God has given us, for us poor souls who don’t want to navigate through the traffic ourselves. I had been planning this evening for quite some time. Before I left, I wanted to visit the 9/11 memorial site, and reserved tickets well before. People often misinterpret a memorial site to a museum, the latter is not the same as the former.
As I walked into General Square in Jersey City, I could clearly sense the sudden increase in temperature underground. There is no escaping it during the summer, and until the train comes along you have to endure such debilitating heat underground. I had no idea how it would be, but I did know that I wanted to visit the site. For better or worse, 9/11 changed the world forever – and New York City is personal to me. Its where I have had memories from incredible highs, to crippling lows. As the train approached the world trade center site, I got out and came out – and breathed a sign of relief as I felt the cool air on my skin.
New York City is place where you can be surrounded by thousands of people, and yet still feel alone. You can walk hours on a straight line navigating through thousands of people, without ever coming out of your own mental cocoon. Its such a unique place to reminisce, and think about where you have been, and how you ended up here after ten years. As I walked on auto-pilot with my ever present black back-pack, black tee, adidas long knee socks and black tennis shoes, and Rafael Nadal long shorts (pirate pants), I could not help wonder about – well, nothing. I was inside my own world and yet, surrounded by so many people who could render the colors on a rainbow to shame. You had to go to the other side of Battery Park, to collect your paper tickets, and then head to the actual memorial site.
I asked a couple of cops for directions, and I am still glad they obliged. If it wasn’t for them, I still will be lost. In a lot of ways it is like a medium security airport – your bags and belongings are thoroughly searched before you follow the crowd. Once you are in the vicinity of the memorial site, you simply follow everyone. As I crossed the yellow lines, and entered the actual memorial site there were brochures in multiple languages on the wall. I crossed them – and then I entered the two pools.
Widely criticised as a ten year long financial disaster, there they were, the two giant pools designed by an Israeli-American called Michael Arad – the two embodiments of the 9/11 memorial site called ‘Reflecting Absence”.
I did not lose anyone I knew on 9/11, but these were my emotions during those two hours. They were as transient, as they were profound. The pools essentially had a rectangular formation, and the two pools are actually at the base of where the two world trade towers stood. Imagine a rectangle, and then imagine if someone punched a deep hole inside the rectangle into the ground, and then imagine someone carving a smaller rectangle in the middle of the larger rectangle – into which water flowed eternally. The two pools were in the middle of the oak trees. You can sense the energy by observing people around you. Most of them whisper out of respect, some of them stare in silence, and some others grieve in tears. The temperature cools down significantly as you get near the pools due to the cold water running into the giant void (that is the smaller open space of a rectangle).
The names of the victims on 9/11 and 02/26/1993 – are engraved on the bronze parapet around the two pools. If the two pools were designed predicated on such a spartan-like theme, then they accomplish what they were designed for. They leave you with a sense of anguish, hollowness and drained hope. They make you feel hollow in an almost visceral sense – not dissimilar to how you would feel if you have ever lost a loved one. Nothing what you feel there originates from affectation – you almost want to shed tears for someone whom you never knew, but lost their life for no fault of their own. You can quite easily see a member of a family right next to you wondering how it has changed their life forever.
As you see multiple layers of cold water in a crystal lattice formation flow vertically into the intermediate base, and then to eventually flow following the exact vertical trajectory into the bottom rectangular void, you cannot help but wonder about a profound absence – the absence of all those lives we lost on 9/11, the lives we lost that have disappeared into that giant void at the bottom of the pool, and continue to lose around the world everyday. Almost rhetorically, you ask yourself – ‘so where is the water that goes into the void? as much as you want to ask what happened to those three thousand people who lost their lives that black Tuesday’. The spartan design leaves you with little hope and almost angry, at how we have erred throughout history. As I meticulously placed my index finger on bronze parapet wall and read a couple of names engraved on them by running my fingers on a horizontal line, I swore I would do everything possible that this will not happen again to the next generation. I remembered the wonderful daughter of one of my best friends who is two, and has her entire life ahead of her.
I did not really know what happened on my way out and how I ended up in Battery Park, on the south side of Manhattan Island I instinctively took the Ferry to Staten Island. As Lady Liberty stood proud in front of the landscape of golden evening summer skies – I just knew we should never build another memorial site – the lives of our children are precious infinite.