Thursday, March 9, 2017

NYC Part IV - Holy Ground

Last week, I described our bus tour of the city. This week, our visit to the 9-11 memorial.

The Big Bus stopped about three blocks from the 9-11 memorial. Everyone disembarked with us, and we made our way through the ice and slush and wind toward One World Trade Center in the distance. Because of our tight schedule, we had no time to go up in the tower, nor did we have time to visit the museum. They’re on the list for our next tip.
We heard the sound of water before we reached the plaza. We approached the pools and were moved by the many names engraved deeply into the granite. Here and there, a flower had been placed into the deep groove of a letter—a reminder of the families and friends of those who were lost and who continue to miss them. The footprints of the original towers struck me as enormous. The sound of water cancels out the sounds of the city as it falls from the outer rim to pound onto a second level. Then it flows into a small, square pool, where it finally drops into an abyss at the bottom and disappears from sight. Just as the towers fell and disappeared. Holy ground.

Larry circled the pools while I remembered the events of the day as if it had been the day before. We woke early and turned on the TV as usual to see the weather and traffic reports. Suddenly, the local feed shifted to the national news. Behind the reporters, smoke billowed from one of the towers. They announced a small plane had crashed into it. The incident was believed to be an accident—until another plane hit the second tower. I turned to Larry. “We’re at war.”

I watched as first responders rushed to the scene, and then as the towers crumbled. I remember the ‘ghosts’ who ran from the disaster covered in ash. Specific images of people remain vivid in my memory. I kept waiting for an announcement about a movie being filmed, hoping against hope this was a joke. It wasn’t.

As I stood next to a pool reading the names, it began to rain. Larry said it was just the spray from the falling water, but I was sure God’s tears blended with my own. Sacred space.
We headed back toward the bus stop. As we turned, I spotted an enormous structure next to the museum. From the end, it looked like a giant dove, whose wings consisted of thin concrete ribs. We were freezing and decided to step inside to warm up. The interior resembled a giant cathedral. Between the ribs, large glass panels revealed the surrounding buildings. We have been to the Crystal Cathedral in southern California several times. This space reminded me of the church. The sides of the interior met in a tall pointed arch.
As we looked down, we noticed a stage. We found it easy to imagine a concert in the space. The lower floor was lined with shops and stores. Two more levels rose along the sides. We found our way to the next floor down and followed it around to the exit closest to our next stop. We discovered this building, known as the Oculus, is actually the transportation center for the memorial site. Although no trains were running, this soon will be visitors’ introduction to the memorial. Beautiful, functional art.

Before we left, I wanted to visit St. Paul’s Chapel, George Washington’s church. I had read about this special location. It survived several major catastrophes untouched to become a source of comfort for survivors and first responders. For weeks following September eleventh, those working on the site were fed here. They slept in the sanctuary and found comfort from the congregation and clergy.
On our way, we passed the graveyard. The fence surrounding it was used for memorials in the days following the collapse of the towers. I looked to the right and spotted one of the old headstones in three pieces. I immediately remembered my great-grandmother’s headstone in the old cemetery in Spring City, Utah. We stopped there while on our road trip in 2012. I was moved just by seeing the names of those people from whom I descend. I have inquired a couple of times about having the headstone repaired, but the person who used to do the work is no longer available. Because this is a private cemetery, I assured those I spoke with that we would be happy to pay for the restoration. When I mentioned it to my cousins, they also said they would contribute. The last I heard, it is still in pieces, just like the one at St. Paul’s.

Larry took photos of the old gravestones while I entered the chapel. A preschool class colored on the floor in the center of the sanctuary. I smiled when I realized this was the perfect image for this special place. It isn’t a dead museum. It is a living place where the congregation continues to worship and serve. Testament to faith.

We re-boarded our bus, deeply moved by our short visit. By the second stop, everyone else had left. Once again, we claimed the very front seats on the second level. Our guide turned off the microphone and moved to the seat behind us.

He shared his story of that infamous day in 2001. He lives in Brooklyn. At the time, he was attending Columbia University, just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. The school announced an accident in one of the towers. Unlike management in the towers themselves, those in charge told the students to evacuate the school immediately.

As he left, he saw a huge cloud of smoke and ash rise above the city streets. He headed toward the bridge and passed “ghosts” covered with ash. Since no transportation was available, he began to cross the bridge, along with many others. He said he developed a new respect for the bridge. Today he never crosses it without remembering his escape from the city. He said he loves sharing his love of the city and his experiences with visitors. I wish we had asked his name—another friendly and memorable person we met in New York.

Sacred space. Holy ground. Divine locations. We are still processing their emotional impacts.

Next week: Our night on Broadway.


  1. Last night at a book signing I had people ask me about how it was working PD after 911. The stages of grief, the devastating loss, didn't seem to begin to touch what I felt.

  2. THank you for your work under those terrible conditions. We will never be the same as a nation or as individuals.