Every year at this time, I can’t help but reflect and relive those moments on that fateful morning 12 years ago. I write an annual post to honor those who gave their lives, who give their lives and fight for our freedom everyday. The civilian, the child, the soldiers, the firefighters, the politicians (yes, there are some), you, me, any American who recognizes and strives for the freedoms on which our country was founded. I also write this post to remember my friends and family who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center. For my friends and family who lived and worked in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania at the time, and are still haunted every day from the sights, sounds, and compromise of our security. Being on the West coast, I often feel removed from the hardships that seem to affect the East. I do my best to empathize and support, but with the distance between us, I wonder if I truly feel the depths of the wounds.
Last December, my husband and I took our oldest children to New York City. I was beyond thrilled to visit one of my favorite cities in the world. It would be their first time, and our agendas were packed. Top of the list was a visit to the World Trade Center 9-11 Memorial and Freedom Tower. I was anxious and nervous to get there. I wasn’t really sure how my kids would react to being there. Would they get it? Would they be respectful? Would they really understand the impact of standing in the middle of where a national and global catastrophe had occurred 11 years earlier?
As soon as we walked through the security lines, I immediately felt an overwhelming sadness. Tears filled up in my eyes. I felt selfish for crying. I, personally, didn’t lose anyone, but I knew people who did. I knew stories from friends and family who couldn’t get out of the city. I tried to imagine what it felt like to be there on that day. I felt helpless and humble at the same time. We walked around the fountains, and I just couldn’t bring myself to take any photos. It felt disrespectful. I felt like I should just be solemn and praying. Not that I minded anyone else taking photos. Everyone there was very respectful and quiet. And, everyone grieves in their own way. I wouldn’t take that away from anyone. We talked to the kids about what happened. But, they already knew. They wanted to find my girlfriend’s relative’s name who passed. I didn’t know how, so we just walked around hoping to spot it, engraved in bronze among a mass of thousands.
After awhile, we said our peaceful good-bye’s and patriotic thank you’s. We were starving, and decided to find lunch in the Battery Park area. As we were walking, we came across a neighborhood park with a playground. It was so neatly kept. The entire area was beautiful, and my husband and I talked about how we would like to live in a neighborhood like Battery Park if we ever lived in a big city like New York. As the kids played and we drank our coffee, we took in the scene and life of the streets and sidewalks. My son started climbing on a jungle gym, and soon convinced his sister to join him. As their mother, how could I miss this innocent moment of them playing together at a park in New York City. I began clicking away, and noticed that in the background was the new Freedom Tower, still under construction. I pointed it out to my husband right away. Again, a bittersweet moment. We both kept commenting on how surreal it was for these innocent children to be climbing and swinging and laughing on a crisp winter day, while a new symbol of Freedom was being reconstructed behind them. So surreal. I love these photos. When they are old enough to appreciate the moment we captured, I’m sure they will, too.
My last thought for today is solidarity. It seems we say it and hear it so much now, it almost feels cliche at times. While we were there, Sandy had just ripped through the city months before, leaving New York, once again, rebuilding. We couldn’t get close enough to the Statue of Liberty for the kids to see up close and personal, so this shot was taken from a view in Battery Park. My cousins who work in the Financial District, couldn’t come meet us for lunch because the trucks and pumps were blocking all the roads. But, still New Yorkers persevere. A few days later the Sandy Hook incident occurred, followed by a few months later with the Boston Marathon Bombing. All of these things, all of these events, the actions that are supposed to make us grow weaker, that are intended to tear us apart and break down our walls…I’ve only seen the American people stand stronger. It’s amazing. It often reminds me of the Grinch trying to steal Christmas from the Who’s. No matter what he did or how hard he tried, he couldn’t break their spirit. Because Christmas is not about the giving and the receiving, it’s about the people you celebrate it with and for. Just like America is not about the materialism and the greed. It’s about the people who make this country great. You can’t break the American spirit. We keep on keeping on.
Many blessings, humbled thoughts and prayers of thanks to all Americans today as we celebrate Patriot’s Day. And, may we never, ever forget.