How do you take a picture of nothing? How do you photograph something that once was? How do you reconcile your memories of something with the reality that is now apparent? How does an entire city find the strength to continue living through tragedy?
These were all questions that flew through my mind as I looked at the hole in the city where the World Trade Center twin towers used to stand. This was a moment of my vacation that I had been both looking forward to and dreading. Walking down the street, looking toward nothing, my heart began to get heavy. Soon, we were there. And where majesty once soared to the sky, there was emptiness. Part of the city that I remember being shadowed by giant buildings were exposed to the sun. And there, surrounded by fence after fence, was Ground Zero.
Even writing about it today, my eyes brim with tears. I wish I could explain the sadness, the heaviness, the disbelief that shrouded my heart. My face pressed to the fence, I looked into the deep void where so many people had died. I looked into the mighty craters created by the buildings and their destruction and I wondered how anyone went on after that day. I looked at what, in any other scenario, would be nothing more than a construction site and instead saw the mass grave of 2,000 people. I knew their bodies were not there—in fact the rubble and remains were either in a landfill nearby or in a coroner’s office, awaiting identification. So many families still have no closure, so many people want nothing more than a few ashes to bury, a symbolic way of saying goodbye to those they loved that will never come home.
The tears came without warning, even though in my heart I knew they would fall. I could see the images burned into my mind on that warm September day 3 years ago. I could see people jumping from the 83rd story because they did not want to burn to death; I could see firefighters and policemen stunned into silence as first one tower and then the other fell to the ground. People and buildings covered with ash and debris, unsure of what would happen next.
As we continued walking around the building, I saw the plaques with the names of the people who had perished there. I read through some of them slowly, again unable to see through my tears. The fence is covered with photographs depicting the rise and fall of the World Trade Center. And, even though there are a few obvious ‘tourists,’ there is still a silence and a reverence that is unmistakable. Sure, cameras are clicking and people are talking, but when they look into the hole, there is silence and understanding and almost reverence.
There is a piece of the World Trade Center erected just inside the fence. It is a familiar image. It is the cross that was discovered amongst the rubble; pieces of the iron grid that formed an almost perfect cross. It stands there, looking over the crater and looking over the lives lost and the terror stricken, as if to remind everyone who goes to that place that God is there, that, like the song said, He was with each person when the towers fell. He held those he loved and who loved Him close, whispering words of peace into their fearful hearts. It strikes me as powerful that in a diverse and multicultural and religious city like New York, no one has said ‘take the cross down.’ No one has questioned why it is there and what it means.
I could have stood there forever, just taking in the feelings I felt–Emotions that were so raw, they hardly seemed real. I did not know a person who died that day, but now, more than ever, I carry my own sense of loss about what happened on September 11, 2001.
You can walk around much of the site, and then, once inside the repaired Winter Gardens, you can truly see down and into the hole. Again, I was moved to tears. I will never understand what happened that day. I will never understand how anyone could even dream of something so diabolical, but I will also never forget.