Location: New York City, New York
Whenever I have some free time on my travels, I try to visit something unique to the area. I spent an afternoon biking across the Golden Gate bridge and wandering around Sausolito when I was in San Francisco and I visited the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building memorial and museum when I was in Oklahoma City. I also love to eat in local places and I have enjoyed all sorts of wonderful delicacies, feeling it is my duty to compare Philly’s hoagies to Madison’s cheese curds to Cape Cod’s lobster rolls. I often spend my free time in New York City going to a show or catching up with friends and relatives, but today I opted to do something I have been meaning to do for a long time. I grabbed a quick breakfast with Hannah, who spent the night in my hotel room with me (sleepovers with the girls when I find myself in their neck of the woods are always highlights of my trips) and then when she headed off for her last week of classes at the Atlantic Acting School, I walked across town to the National 9/11 Memorial and museum.
Any walk in New York city is an adventure in itself. I love seeing the hustle and bustle of so many different lives and occupations intersecting. The smells of the street carts (with the occasional far less pleasant smell of whatever happened on that pavement the night before), the inevitable bleeping of horns, and the way tourists and native New Yorkers jabber away in every language imaginable. I also find it deeply disturbing to see so many homeless people, with this country’s mental health and opioid crisis on full display. Even more distressing is the way so many passerby seem to be oblivious to it, often stepping over someone completely sprawled across the sidewalk without even breaking stride. I will say that I am never bored on my New York City walks, and I do not need headphones to listen to NPR because there is always plenty to interest me and distract me on my walks.
This morning was bright and sunny and everything looked a little cleaner and fresher thanks to last night’s rain. I walked from the lights and chaos of Times Square through Greenwich Village and then head towards the water. My phone tells me I am almost there and I feel my heart begin to race a bit, turning my attention away from how much my knees are protesting the long walk and instead reflecting on what it must have been like to have been in the city on that morning, let alone in one of the Twin Towers or on one of the planes. But before my somber mood fully takes hold, I cross the street and walk along a vibrant and colorful wall of grafitti, emblazoned with tons of hearts and a message about embracing our differces. (I don’t remember the exact wording. I wish I could still blame chemo brain for my terrible memory, but my kids will tell you it was horrible before I had the Big C to blame. I just know it was something about getting along and appreciating how we are all different but the same.) The wall is part of a city-wide graffiti project and this particular mural, on the steel wall visitors must walk by to get to the memorial, is almost jarring in its cheerfulness. It doesn’t seem to offer the right degree of reverence for the memorial people are on their way to see. I then reach one of the two enormous reflecting pools, lined in black granite that is etched with all of the 3,000 people who lost their lives that day. It is incredibly powerful and sobering, and more in keeping with what I expected to see and feel at the memorial.
But as I wait in a very long line to enter the museum (wondering if I will again be offered the senior citizen discount that has been offered to me – unsolicited! – multiple times in the last few months!), I take in all of the different languages spoken all around me. I see an Italian family puzzling over a map and a couple from Australia lean over and offer their two cents. I see Muslims waiting next to a large group of teens from somewhere in the Midwest and couples and friends and families from all across the globe waiting patiently to see this commemoration of the day the United States was under attack. And as I walk through the museum, and even after I leave it, that is what stays with me. Not the twisted steel that was all that was left of one of the towers or the video tributes, photographs and mementos that make it impossible to ignore the scores of families that were ripped apart that day. Not the artwork commissioned to commemorate the buildings and the lives that are now gone or the placards with gripping quotes about what it was like to be there that day.
What I remember from today is that bright message of hope and love. And then the way it was embodied by the crowd waiting with me to see how we are continuing to process and grieve what was lost on 9/11. The overall takeaway is in keeping with this blog. There is more good than bad. There is more celebration of difference than destruction in its name. It seems oddly fitting that the image that most sticks with me on my walk back to midtown is the wall of colorful hearts and the message of hope. Terrible things have happened and will continue to devastate us, but we will also continue to come together.