A Visit to Remember

Jamie Gershel

The beginning of the school year is dominated by one question, “What did you do this sum­mer?” As I became reacquainted with my friends, I tried to avoid answering the question. I loved my summer internship, but I could not find the proper way to describe how I spent the past three months. The response I usually gave was that I worked in the Office of the Mayor of New York City, which gives no description whatsoever as to what I did or for which department I in­terned. But, as the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11 arrived, I felt it was appropriate to share my summer experience.

As many of you know, often interns are required to take notes for their bosses. The office I interned with was responsible for overseeing the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and I was responsible for taking minutes during these meetings. I sat in many meetings addressing the planning of the 10th Anniversary ceremony as well as how the memorial site will operate when it is open to the public. At the first meeting I attended, there were at least 20 representatives from various offices that were involved in the planning of the memorial. We were all cramped into a conference room to discuss the issues of opening a memorial on an active construction site. As I sat in the room scribbling down acronyms and words I did not yet understand, I became very angry at these people for talking about the World Trade Center with no emotion. There was no mention that what they were building was sym­bolic of the murder of 2,983 people in 2001 and six in 1993. The meeting came to a close with a “same time next week,” and I returned to my desk to decipher what I had written in the past hour.

Waiting for me on my Outlook was a meeting request en­titled “Site Visit.” The woman who asked me to come along walked up to my desk and said, “I sent you a meeting request to go to the World Trade Center site next Wednesday. We will meet at 8:30 a.m. at the intersection of Liberty and West. Remember, this is a construction site, so you cannot wear flats or a nail may go through your shoe. Wear construction boots. Also, don’t wear a dress or skirt. Wear pants, but don’t wear black.” On that Wednesday I met the team promptly at 8:30 and was handed a neon construction vest and a hard hat. The gates that had been wrapped so the public could not see inside opened magically for us and I entered, anxious to see what exactly was being built at the World Trade Center site. As we navigated our way through scrap metal, dodged trucks delivering steel and protected our eyes from the construc­tion dust, the team stopped in front of the North Tower Reflecting Pool.

I cannot describe how incredibly huge the footprint of the North Tower is (The pools are built in the footprint of what was once the North and South Towers). Pictures do not show the physical dimensions of the waterfalls in the reflecting pools. Wearing my hard hat and work boots I began to cry, as I realized that after ten years I still do not understand the events of September 11. I do not mean that in a literal way; of course I know the timeline. I just do not think that we as a nation can ever make sense of what happened. This is where the memorial is unlike any other I have visited. It offers the viewer a place of serene calm in the aftermath of a man-made tragedy. The natural beauty of the trees that line the plaza, the pure grey cobblestones that you walk upon and the rush of running water heard when you approach the pool permits you to leave everyday worries behind. You can reflect on what happened and attempt to discover how we can live our daily lives in the wake of the tragedy. It was there, in that moment, that I understood why there was no emotion in the weekly meetings planning “Day 2.” Each participant was truly affected, but in order to build and sustain a memorial that respects those that we have lost, the decision makers had to detach themselves from their feelings. Otherwise nothing would be accomplished.

Many have criticized the memorial. As we moved closer to the 10th anniversary, with the museum opening slated for 2012, I realized that the priority is not the “what” or “how” we build something. Rather, it is the fact that the City of New York has kept its promise to the American people, and has created a final memorial for those 2,983 who were lost. This will allow us as a nation to reflect, remember and rebuild.

Contact Jamie Gershel at [email protected]