I live in Manhattan now, so I try to explore something new every weekend. One cold and cloudy January morning I visited the Ground Zero Memorial.
Its subterranean museum is the most solemn place I have ever been. And the most solemn area within this most solemn of museums is the austere dark room where white names illuminate the black wall. A calm feminine voice reads one aloud. Then come the picture, the birthdate, and the inevitable date of death: September 11, 2001. A relative or friend describes the individual, not as one among thousands, but as a distinct one, one who was loved.
Pictures line an alcove labeled as possibly disturbing. One woman holds down her skirt to preserve her modesty before jumping from a high floor. Another man dives into a free fall, looking utterly in control of his fate. I can’t help but feel that he is brave but also a fool. Then I hate myself for thinking such a thing. I ask myself how I would have acted in the same situation. I do not know. We do not often think about how to confront death.
In another corridor I watch people pick up telephones on the walls and listen to messages on the other end, walking away with stoic faces but watery eyes. At some strange level I feel compelled to listen. The phone beeps in my ear like the message is for me. It is a man calling his wife. He tells her his plane has been hijacked. And that he loves her.
I have to hold back my tears. What else could he have said besides “I love you?”
That question has haunted me for weeks. If I knew I my life was about to be cut short, how would I say goodbye? It seems that any words besides “I love you” would be pointless. I love you. I love you so much. And yet those words don’t convey enough.
Riding up the escalator from the dark museum, I feel heavy. I have remembered a tragedy so massive it hasn’t sunk in, even after 13 years. It never will. But I also feel light. Somehow the world is still turning. Some of us are able to live in a state of happiness despite the horrifying events occurring all around the world, painful events that cannot be softened by romanticizing them or trying to explain a deeper purpose behind them. They simply are, and we have to remember how abominable they are in order to ensure that such abominations never happen again.
A mosaic of individuals’ recollections of the sky’s color on September 11 line one wall. A quote from the Aeneid, nestled between the ceruleans and azures and ultramarines, will stay with me forever: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”