Stepping into the past: McCoy’s 9/11 reflection

New_York_-_National_September_11_Memorial_South_Pool_-_April_2012_-_9693C

After final beads of August sweat have trickled down from leathered faces, then evaporated, September quickly greets us with thoughts of fall fashion and where to buy cheap textbooks.  Although it marks the fourth quarter of our calendar year, September is a new beginning and fresh start for any student – one I think we all appreciate.  After a few months home, or aboard, or working two crappy summer jobs . . . most of us are ready and excited for the first day of classes to arrive.

But September doesn’t just mark the eager return of anticipatory young undergrads back to our beautiful, lakeside stomping grounds.  As of today, September 11th 2014, it has been thirteen years since our country witnessed, endured, and suffered the brutal ramifications of one of the worst terrorist attacks this world has ever seen.  Four planes were hijacked, and several thousands of American lives were lost.

It was more than a decade ago, but I still remember being guided away from the playground and into my third grade classroom with the rest of my peers to huddle around a tiny television as frantic news was being broadcasted.  I remember chaos and crying, and that we were shuttled home soon thereafter.  I lived on Long Island at the time.

I can also recall the massive, bomb-like cloud of debris, smoke, and devastation rising up into the sky from as far off as downtown Manhattan.

The 23rd floor of 90 West Street is where I lived over the summer.  For those unfamiliar, it’s an old, gothic looking building in the core of downtown Manhattan – located one block from the Freedom Tower.  During my first week there, I went out to dinner with my dad one night when he’d gotten off work in the area.  On the stroll back to my apartment, he suggested we walk through the memorial, as I had not yet done so on my own.  Something about a million sweaty tourists aimlessly meandering around while snapping photos of ground zero, a place where 2,573 human deaths had simultaneously occurred, hadn’t motivated me to enter the park on my own.

The memorial is stunning, to say the very least.  Now known for being New York City’s tallest building, the Freedom Tower glistens as it rises into what looks like infinity when standing at its base.  As my father and I stood at the foot of the enormous building, craning our necks and squinting our eyes to witness the illusion of its grand spire touch space, he told me he liked to think of that shimmering façade as the path each soul took up to heaven.  Though less religious in practice than my father, to agree with him awards me some tiny token of relief.

As we traveled around and between the twin pools, I watched as thousands of gallons of water cascaded from its rim into the basin of their deep wells, cycling back up and around…over and over.  It’s an emotional experience, undoubtedly a purposeful one.  I was suddenly filled with all kinds of questions and speculations for my father that I’d always been too young to think to ask.  Having just turned twenty-one on the day of my return to New York, I felt like I was viewing our world through adult vision for the first credible time.

“Isn’t the symmetry brilliant?” I said.  “Like, the tower escaping into the sky and the pools burrowing beneath…”

“Yes, I agree that the architect did a tremendous job.  His design was chosen over hundreds if not thousands, I’m sure.”

I let that sink in before adding, “I mean it parallels human life so perfectly: cyclical energy and all.  The water pouring round and round…the tower going off into forever…”

My father stayed quiet, in a polite and observant way, appearing pensive.  As we’d strolled along the edge of either pool, he’d pointed out several names of the men whose funerals he’d attended thirteen years ago.  My ignorance affected me with overwhelming guilt.  I was alive for this tragedy.  But I had been a child.

Exiting the park at its rear, you’ll pass a large bronze engraving.  Depicted are the faces of first respondents, many of who gave their lives in order to save others.

“May we never forget.”

That is what’s inscribed on the sculpture, and the thought you are left with upon departing from the memorial.

September is a time for new beginnings, but for far too many Americans, it also triggers mourning . . . remembrance, and the humble regard for how fragile of our sole existences actually are.

Gaze upon our gorgeous campus.  As you take your next delicious breathe of tropical Floridian air, try to picture what a shattered life looks like.  Picture thousands…picture families without fathers and mothers, parents who’d still existed that very morning.  It can be hard at times, here at Rollins, to understand what real human suffering looks like.  Cramming for an exam because we partied instead of going to the library is not human suffering.   On September 11th 2001, the American people suffered to their core.  Thirteen years later, may we never be so ungrateful as to forget that.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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