Sunday, where two towers once stood, water cascades down the sides of two square pools, footprints of those giants. No longer do we see the massive piles of tangled steel and concrete that formed before our eyes 10 years ago. Instead, hundreds of oak trees line paths that guide us out of the city’s noisy, fast-paced energy and into a quiet open space, the 9/11 Memorial Glade. Hesitant, then looking upward toward the sky, we let ourselves go back in time. Even before the images return, tears moisten our eyes, and we remember.
This hallowed place of memory, unlike the pyramids of old, contains no bodies. Ashes of those who died on that day 10 years ago became part of the dust that either settled into a gaping hole where the giants had been or spread into the air which New York’s millions breathed. The dead became part of the city’s humanity and, indeed, part of all of us Americans. Only their names are left, letters incised into bronze panels along the walls surrounding reflecting pools. One hundred years from now, the aged metal will represent whatever we who witnessed that day’s horrors have succeeded in preserving.
To keep our past, we tell our children the stories of parents, grandparents and others who shaped our lives. As a community, as a nation, and as global citizens, we learn about older and wider connections, that which we call history. Through language and the arts, our shared knowledge enlarges. Singly and together, families and cultures intertwine. Through electronic images, we view and can understand what is happening on the other side of the planet or in the space station that circles Earth.
When we watched TV that September morning, two planes crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center; another penetrated the Pentagon’s fortress walls. A fourth, failing in its attempt to reach its target, exploded into a Pennsylvania valley. I felt as though an armed intruder had broken through the door into my living room. Didn’t all of us sense that unfamiliar vulnerability?
This particular day in our history made us witnesses to a wrongdoing that lies far outside our comprehension. Murderers struck, and death took on new meaning when we saw people jump from windows 100 floors above city streets rather than await suffocation and flames. Others disappeared along with the buildings. No final resting place received those who were taken from us.
They were daughters and sons, fathers and mothers, loved by those who now remember and hold fast to a last smile or hug, a last morning walk out the front door, a voiced “I love you” that became what would be a final goodbye. Yet those who perished that day are also ours, and we, too, seek solace in keeping those 2,983 individuals — the men, women and children who perished at the hands of terrorists. They were crew members and passengers of planes, emergency workers, first responders, military personnel and folks who were starting a new day at work.
A monument bears their names, but we the living shall carry their spirit along with the full impact of the evil that ended their lives. Marking the trauma of that day as it has marked out lives, we must pursue with renewed optimism the dream that America represents — freedom for ourselves without diminishing that of others.
As a new tower rises out of a forest of green and upward into the skies above New York City, the Sept. 11 of the past merges into the future. Our footprints follow the giants.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.