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As scheduled, my family and I went to the 9/11 Memorial. There was an awful long line, but it moved relatively fast. Passing through security and an endless labyrinth of streets, we finally made it.

It was huge. Like a private park. Guards were everywhere you looked. Brochures lined up against a wall in every language. But the stars of the show were the two infinity fountains. They took up one chunk of the whole park.

It was very quiet here, very solemn. Little birds sang on the trees, a fresh breeze was blowing around the place smelling pure in contrast to the polluted air of the streets, and there was the continuous sound of water falling and splashing.

After walking around the loud, colorful New York I knew, it felt as if I was walking on sacred ground here. There were many distant faces. I walked to the South Fountain. On the borders of it were engraved in stone the names of the people who helped or died trying. Most of the crowd was staring into the water, perhaps remembering what happened, a family member, or just giving a silent thank you. I also stared into the water, drawn in by its spell. I also gave a silent thank you.

The North Fountain contained the names of those who died in the towers. This particular fountain was very crowded. I looked at those around me. Some were the typical New Yorker business men in their twenties, women in their forties, teenagers like me, and the occasional tourist. It made me wonder if these business men were only five year old kids when they knew the towers were falling. That forty year old woman was probably a young wife. That teenager was just a baby. All of them watching the TV with their loved ones in their heads. The phone lines cutting off as the towers collapsed and those last words echoing in their heads, “I love you.”

All these images flashing through my mind while I stood there staring at the fountain, entranced. How awful and painful it all felt.

I saw an old man walking alone, looking through the names in the stone. He seemed confident of the direction he was going. Maybe he did this everyday to talk to his wife, sister, or daughter.

I saw that same look on everyone, far off and stuck in a daydream. Picturing what life could’ve been like with them here. I felt like I was peeping into their personal diary if I looked at their faces, knowing every thought and feeling that they had. It didn’t feel right to look at them and interrupt this vulnerable moment.

The tourist were taking turns for the pictures; swapping phones and whatnot. They posed, and smiled.

Smiled.

Why would you smile? Why would you take a picture in front of a monument meant for remembering lost ones and smile? For what?

It left this bitter and angry feeling in me. It was wrong to do this. Sick. Perverse. Morbid. You stripped all the holiness from the place.

I don’t know why I felt so defensive about it, but I did.
These tourists probably didn’t understand how much death and pain these fountains represented. That photo would only be a picture in an album titled ‘:(’. Stored away in a scrapbook with the stupid tacky title ‘NY Memories’.

It was time to go home. Heading to the exit I heard loud, choking sobbing and a soft voice repeating “It’s okay”. Two young girls with similar ages were huddled over the pavement crying and muttering “mommy” over and over again.

Suddenly it struck me. The fountains were the final resting place. These fountains were as close as those young little girls could get to their mother. Lunch break was spent here for the business man. All the people only had a fountain. And although it seemed beautiful and grand at first, it didn’t seem enough worthy to hold the memories. It overflowed, didn’t keep all the feelings inside. I saw them with new eyes.

Leaving Ground Zero was easy, but the memory of the place and multitude of people stuck with me the rest of the day, having a portentous aura on my soul and a sore spot on my heart.




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