With visitor's passes on hand, we're joining the long queue in hushed silence. A collective awareness of respect and honor hangs in the air. No one's even complaining about airport-style security just to get in. Or that IDs have to be checked. Considering the tragic events that happened here, everyone understands the tight security at The National September 11 Memorial & Museum in downtown Manhattan's World Trade Center.
Entering the memorial site is free. But because it is currently a construction site, entrance is still capacity controlled and one can only enter at the time indicated on the pass. We walk along a construction fencing, amidst the din of car traffic on one side and the hum of ongoing building work on the other. A duo of police officers stand on a corner, intently eyeing each visitor behind dark aviator glasses.
|Twin Towers rubble as seen from Broadway St. (late September 2001)|
|Makeshift memorial at Washington Square (late September 2001)|
|Makeshift Memorial at Washington Square (late September 2001 - all 3 pics taken with my old Nikon FM10)|
Twelve years have passed since that horrendous day. Like everyone else who will never forget where they were or what they were doing at that moment, September 11 has become a part of a universal consciousness. The unfolding events were so raw and so graphic, the nature of attacks so brazen and diabolic it has scarred the American psyche forever.
Twelve years ago I arrived in this country hoping for that much clichéd "greener pasture". Barely two months later, I awoke on a beautiful September morning in a Queens, NY apartment to find my dreams seemingly crumbling along with the imploding Twin Towers. "What's happening?", I could only ask in disbelief, shocked at this breaking news on practically all TV stations. If Armaggedon in America was happening right then, I have all the right to be scared s#&^t! I almost wanted to go back to the Philippines.
The USA was terribly wounded and I, along with millions of others, felt the hemorrhage of a nation. Questions arose in the air like the dark, rancid smoke of a smoldering "Ground Zero". Yet there were no clear answers right then. My vision of the "Great American Dream" was built on the premise that America is a land of opportunity. When 9/11 struck, it came with such ferocity it weakened my knees like a quivering jelly. I thought my dream was turning into a nightmare. But thankfully I held on.
Two weeks later, as the city of New York was still reeling from the catastrophe, a friend and I ventured into lower Manhattan for some errands. Our train stopped at Fulton Street Station, then the closest operating subway station to "Ground Zero", so we got out, curious to find how things were. Even down there in the train platform we sensed a sign that devastation reached Manhattan's netherworld - we smelled the stench of death and everyone was covering their noses.
|A callery pear tree which survived in the aftermath of|
the attacks is now known as the "Survivor Tree"
As expected, we couldn't go beyond Broadway Street as about six city blocks became a fenced-in
On nearby St. Paul's Chapel, eerily caked with dust, a makeshift wall full of pictures was displayed, with each photo scribbled "missing". We were staring at portraits of people whom we don't even know yet the impact of whatever they went through was cutting us like a thousand knives. It was extremely agonizing to imagine almost 3,000 innocent people going through something so atrocious a death. My friend and I felt we just couldn't bear it anymore, our knees were trembling and so we walked away.
Twelve years later, here I am staring at one of the two footprints of the fallen Twin Towers. Now a part of the 9/11 Memorial, the footprints have been turned into a reflecting pool with a man-made waterfall running along its entire four corners. Right on the edge of the pools are bronze panels where names of all victims both from the 1993 and 2001 attacks are inscribed.
It's a fitting tribute, one which speaks volumes about man's quest for hope and redemption and renewal. The sound of cascading water elicits introspection, muting all discordant noises from a bustling downtown Manhattan. As I let my hand ran through some of the names, I realized many of them were foreign-sounding. For sure, a lot of them whose lives were lost right at this spot, must have at some point been dreaming of the Great American Dream themselves. I certainly share in that dream. And I pray for their eternal rest.