Sometimes, it isn't easy to understand why we are so profoundly moved. Visiting the 9-11 Memorial in New York City touched us this way. Perhaps it was because we visited it for the first time since the event happened. Maybe it was because our visit was within the week of today, the 22nd anniversary.
The moment we reached ground level after getting off the subway, the new Freedom Tower reached high into the heavens as we walked across the street to the memorial. This building that replaced the Twin Towers seemed to convey so many of the values we have come to appreciate in America: resilience, determination, hard work, getting up after falling, growth, innovation, development, and, most of all, the indomitable spirit that represents the American soul.
Immediately outside the Freedom Tower is the North Pool, an immense black marble edifice with the names of those who died in the North Tower engraved in gold on the low wall around the massive area. The sound of flowing water dominates the atmosphere, drowning out most human voices. The humans, primarily tourists, are respectfully quiet. Looking over the wall, you see the water running toward the pool's center into a considerable cavernous depth whose bottom is invisible from the sides.
Here, we recorded a short video to share with our students; you can tell from our voices and faces how affected we were at the time. On the video, you can experience everything you read in the text.
krato smara ktam smara
(Oh my soul, remember)
We prayed for many moments throughout the one hour we spent at the memorial site. The first thing that hit home deeply was the names of people of Indian origin near where we went to lean over and take in the pool. New York City is that classic melting pot of nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities we've come to know as America. Visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island that same day brought some of that history home.
Visiting the South Pool was even more poignant. We remembered the day it happened. Seeing the second tower go down in real time that day on live TV was the most heart-rending, gut-punched moment in our lives. The silence accompanying the transition of death was something we all tapped into as a nation that day. That silence could be felt at the memorial, although there was now an accompanying sense of an eternal peace. On some level, there was an integration of the massive cultural pain. However, the memories remain.
Between the two pools, we visited a Greek Orthodox church, the first time we had ever been to one. The impeccable white walls of the interior contrasted the artwork while the service took place. Like Latin mass, the priest turned his back to the congregation. At the same time, the antiphonic prayers and praise reverberated around the small circular building in an area where so many thousands had died. That sort of collective death is a massive portal into another dimension. Perhaps it was this awareness that lent an added poignancy to our visit.
The South Pool wall is engraved with the names of first responders and other personnel who had died in the collapse of those towers. We don't realize how many people lost their lives in that unrequited manner that day until we see name after name after name on those low black marble walls. Behind that pool is a small tree decorated with flags and ribbons. This tree symbolizes the life that survived after that devastating attack.
If you have arrived at this space, know that no matter what happens in life, however hard it is, a new birth can come out of it. In the Hindu tradition, birth is the complement of death. Life is seen to be a combination of birth and death; the seed of one is always within the other, like the yin-yang Chinese symbol. In Western spiritualities, there is an acute sense that no pain is in vain: God will heal all wounds, if not in this life, then most certainly in the next.
Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Sep 11, 2023