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9/11 serves as important reminder

I had never been to New York City, so a few years ago when I took a road trip to New England, making a stop in the Big Apple was a no-brainer.

My boyfriend and I had felt the spray of Niagara Falls, driven through the beautiful Adirondack Mountains during prime leaf-peeping season, eaten Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in Vermont, seen lighthouses and puffins off the coast of Maine, the countryside in New Hampshire, traveled through Boston., walked the cliffs in Rhode Island and drove the coast of Connecticut.

The last major leg of the trip was New York City. We drove into the city just in time for rush hour traffic. That was when our leisurely road trip turned into what I can only describe as one of the most anxiety-filled moments of my life.

Since we only had about a day and a half to see the sights, my boyfriend wanted to drive the outskirts of the city to get some photos.

Well I don’t know if you’ve driven the freeways around NYC, but we learned quickly that you better keep up the pace. And you better have cash for the tolls.

Getting to our hotel in New Jersey required many toll bridges and as we paid one after the other, I was starting to worry we would run out of cash. Each toll was more expensive than the last and we just ignorant to the fact that we would be driving through all of them on this sightseeing journey.

By the time we made it to our hotel, my anxiety was so high, I was sure I just wanted to skip the rest of the trip and head home. Even that night, standing in Times Square with the lights flashing and the people bustling around, I felt so insecure in this huge place and I just wanted it to be over. I mean, it’s just a bunch of tall buildings, right?

The next day, it rained. And rained. And rained.

But we persevered and walked the city, even though I wished I were anywhere else.

Then we got to St. Paul’s Chapel and everything changed.

The Episcopal chapel is on Broadway and is a national landmark, the oldest public building in continuous use in NYC.

I didn’t know it until I walked in and saw for myself, but the chapel had been a shrine to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks since it was used as a place of rest for emergency workers and volunteers.

Banners, photos, handwritten letters from all over the country, each one a tribute to someone lost in the attacks or a token of appreciation for the rescue efforts.

Somehow, all that anxiety I felt melted away and I couldn’t hear the car horns and traffic anymore. My stupid problems weren’t important anymore.

We walked to the 9/11 Memorial where the Twin Towers used to stand.

The exterior of the memorial was still somewhat under construction so we had to snake through a long line of ropes and high walls. We couldn’t see anything until we got to the very end of the line.

I think it was the most beautiful memorial to anything I had ever seen.

The plaza was surprisingly green, with white oak trees and grassy patches all around.

There were many stone benches, where I can only imagine how many people had already visited to pay tribute to the loved ones they lost in the attacks.

And the focal point of it all was the two huge, twin reflecting pools, symbolizing the two fallen towers.

The names of each fallen person from 2001, as well as 1993, were inscribed on the memorials. It was breathtaking and overwhelming and beautiful and sad and serene all at the same time.

I didn’t personally know anyone who died that day, but as a person visiting to pay my respects, I could feel the enormity of what that memorial represented.

Definitely as an American, I could feel just how important a place like that is for people who are still mourning loved ones. It felt like just by visiting, I was taking on a little piece of the burden for someone else so they wouldn’t have to carry it for a while. They couldn’t be there at that moment to read their loved ones name on the memorial, but I could. We all could.

For those too young to remember the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, this past Thursday was just another day.

Those children may have participated in a Patriot Day remembrance assembly at their school, sung a few songs and talked about pride of country.

For the rest of us, memories of where we were when we first heard the news came rushing back as photos of that day flooded social media and television, just as it did on that very day.

Images of the Twin Towers, smoke billowing from the impact of the hijacked aircraft, flames shooting out. Then, like a pile of toothpicks, they crumbled to the ground, a tidal wave of ash and debris surging into the streets of New York City.

For some, the anniversary of 9/11 will always be a day to mourn the loss of the nearly 3,000 people who died that day.

For me, it is a reminder of how important it is to unite as Americans and help lift up those who find it hard to stand on their own on that day and to never forget the sacrifices so many made doing exactly that.

 

Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.