I traveled to New York last week, and was blessed to be able to take time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero.
The grounds are simple and beautiful: Two reflecting pools; a list of names representing the lives that were lost; and greenery and trees that quietly remind us of nature’s comeback. This is in the shadow of the new Freedom Tower, a majestic skyscraper that glistens in the New York sun.
Amidst all of this peace, though, there is an undeniable vibe of despair.
I actually wasn’t sure how to get to the memorial from where I began Friday morning in SoHo, so I began walking in the direction of the Freedom Tower, which I caught glimpses of as I made my way down the narrow streets.
I had a good morning — I’d just acted like a silly fangirl at the temporary Central Perk that has been constructed in honor of the 20th anniversary of the show Friends. I snapped photos, talked with other fans, sipped free coffee and sat on the original couch from the set. That night I had plans to have dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in over two years. My mood was nothing short of jovial.
But the closer I got to the site of the tragedy, the more nauseous I began to feel. Without glancing up or looking at street signs, I knew exactly when I had arrived at Ground Zero from the sick feeling I got, which was like an energy physically pulling the joy from my body.
A little dizzy and a lot haunted, I began to survey they area. The construction currently going on gave me flashbacks of the hundreds of news reports I watched of workers looking for survivors amidst the horrible smoldering pile of death and debris. The well-dressed business people making their way to and from lunch sent me into a memory of office workers that day in their professional attire, running in horror from their soon-to-be-former workplace. The visitors openly weeping at the reflecting pools reminded me that some tragedies will never truly end.
I walked from the memorial across the street to a beautiful little park along the marina and took a breath of fresh air before returning to the space where I had to purchase a museum ticket. I needed the break.
When I decided I would run out of time to go in unless I returned, I quietly stood in line, listening to the British accents behind me and the French speaking friends in front of me. I thought about how lovely it was that they cared enough to visit.
My timed entrance was over an hour from when I bought the ticket, so I walked as far away from the site as I could to get the vibe off of me, bought and wrote some postcards to friends, and people watched.
When I returned, about 20 minutes before I was due to be admitted, I unfortunately got in line just ahead of one of the most obnoxious children I have ever encountered.
She was a skinny, brown-haired, freckle-faced brat that I would suppose was in the neighborhood of 12 years old. She was with her father and another female family member (but it couldn’t have been mom, because any mom would have told her to shut up).
In her high-pitched voice, she proceeded to loudly complain about the fact she was standing in “another” line and though our tickets were stamped for 1:30, we would surely not be out of there until 5:00. This whining drew looks from the people in front of me and the people behind them, and everyone to our left and right, English-speaking or otherwise.
Due to a complete lack of self-awareness, the girl continued.
Next on her list was verbally scripting a show, starring her and her dad (who was coaching her along and laughing with her). I forget what the plot was intended to be, but several times I heard her joke and giggle about being killed, killing, dying, etc.
People became uncomfortable, the looks shot in her direction were scathing and at one point I turned around and made direct eye contact with a look that screamed “please shut the fuck up.” None of this even phased her. She kept going, getting louder and louder with her stupid story.
By the time I had rehearsed the lecture I was going to deliver to her and her father about how inappropriate her behavior was at such a sacred site, it was our turn to go in, so I bit my tongue and got as far away from them as possible once I was inside.
I heard a couple with an indistinguishable accent speaking in hushed tones about how out of control the behavior of American children is, and I’m certain they were referencing her.
Of course kids get antsy as they sightsee with their parents. I get that. And I cut some slack to the toddlers, but adolescents???
I remember being less than thrilled about being dragged from one art museum to another when I was seven and we lived in Greece, but I never would have dreamed about joking and carrying on about an inappropriate subject matter outside any memorial or place of solemn reflection. And if I had, my parents would have quickly silenced me.
We were standing upon hallowed ground at the 9/11 Museum, an area where so many lost their lives and their loved ones grieved for them. I was witnessing our American history with people who had no connection to the site and people who were a part of it that day. The level of grief on display varied from silent acknowledgement to outright sobs of pain. It is still September, after all.
The girl (and her dad) should be horribly ashamed of her behavior and should serve as a lesson to the rest of us: To truly honor the victims of this horrible act, behave with reverence in the presence of their lost souls.
And if the site doesn’t mean anything to you, please don’t waste anyone’s time by visiting.