We were boarding the subway on Roosevelt Island in New York City where John and Jo Ann, my sister and brother-in-law, have an apartment. We were on our way to Ground Zero, a place I really wanted to visit.
My husband and I had visited the Financial District in downtown Manhattan prior to 9/11, and again three months after 9/11 when the skeleton of one of the towers stretched to the sky. At that time, water was still being sprayed on the rubble, the acrid smoke was still heavy in the air, and the memorial messages, flowers, and candles were still on the fences.
These memorials served to personalize each victim as a valued and loved family member whose life was abruptly destroyed on that terrible day. The nearly 3,000 folks lost were not just a nameless mass.
I wanted to see the area cleared of rubble and remade into the attractive and welcoming place it is today, a place that honors the lives lost in Ground Zero.
During the tour we took with family, we walked carefully through long aisles of barricades and security toward our goal of the Memorial Pools in the footprint of the North and South Towers.
The 9/11 attacks killed 2,799 people from more than 90 nations. The oldest victim was 85 years old and the youngest was 2. More than 400 people were first responders who died performing their sworn duties. The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze parapets around the perimeters of the two pools. Two 32-foot waterfalls cascade into the pools, each descending into a center void. The sound of the running water was soothing to the soul.
As I was reading some of the names, I was struck with the thought of the thousands killed on that fateful day right where I was standing. I looked down the street and remembered the horde of stunned people streaming out of the buildings, covered in ashes, and running down the street, running for their very lives.
Though I could visualize the horror of that day, it was hard to carry those images into the peaceful area of the Memorial Pools, the acres of green grass, the newly-planted trees.
I had my picture taken by the Survivor Tree, the one tree to survive the day. It has been nurtured, trimmed, replanted, and fenced as a living memorial that speaks of survival, survival on a day of devastation and destruction.
We saw the new World Trade Center towers under construction around Ground Zero, the tallest one already inching past the Empire State building. Its finished height is slated to be 1,776-feet high.
A bit of a controversy has just arisen on whether or not the spire that will rest on top can be counted as part of the building or just be an antennae. If not, the new building will not be counted as the tallest building in the U.S.
I was disappointed that the museum is not slated to open until 2013. That will be a very special place to visit and honor those lives lost in the disaster. A proud feature in the atrium of the museum will be two steel tridents -- forked columns from the original facade of the North Tower.
I knew no one personally involved in the 9/11 destruction, but I have a friend who was raised in Manhattan and his friend was a firefighter, killed that day by a body of one who jumped from the building and fell on top of him.
Another friend had a relative that worked in the second tower. They were told to evacuate. Then a call came that all was clear and everyone should return to their offices. People walking down turned around and walked back up, as she did. Then she thought, "I don't want to walk back up," so she reversed and continued down as did some others. All who went back up were killed.
I thought of how I froze on a steep escalator earlier that evening. My fear seemed so minor compared to the fear the victims faced as they walked down the stairs in an effort to escape the holocaust soon to come.
I was so pleased to discover that the names of the victims were cut out of the bronze parapet, not etched to erode with time. The inch-thick bronze was cut clear through, each letter sharp and clear.
The best thing happened as dusk fell, and the lights came on under the parapets -- shining through the names of each victim. They can all be read clearly day and night.
Truly, we light up your life, and so honor each victim that was lost on that fateful day, Sept. 11, 2001.