Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Afternoon In America

The 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan is in the middle of a construction site. You need reservations to visit; details here. Beyond the fences and security, it's spacious and quiet. Hallowed ground. People walk slowly and speak quietly. "It doesn't feel like New York," said my stepdaughter, Meaghan, who lives here. Friendly, otherwise inconspicuous volunteers step forward to offer tissues to those who are moved to tears or to assist with photography.

Sunken fountains ringed with the names of the fallen mark the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. The spaces will be encircled by the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower and several other skyscrapers, each designed differently and spaced at odd intervals, like American irregulars standing guard. Their grandeur and diversity (and, one hopes, low occupancy rates) will affront the murderers.

One of their victims, Lisa Frost, an alumna of St. John's Episcopal School, had been graduated from Boston University in the spring of 2001. She was aboard United flight 175, which the terrorists flew into the south tower. Her name is on panel S-3. My wife Kathy found the name of William Wik, who married her high school friend Kathy Norton. William escaped from the south tower but died after reentering to help others get out. His name is on S-60.

I don't know if this little girl and her family were visiting the name of a family member or friend. The carved names invite touch. Sometimes, depending on how the wind blows around the plaza, the marble is dampened by mist from the thundering fountains.

The small temporary visitor center (a Sept. 11 museum will open later, in a building that looks like one of the towers knocked on its side) displays only two relatively small photos of the towers on fire. The first has the U.S. flag in the foreground. The spare text says the attacks were the work of the "radical Islamist terrorist network al-Qaeda."

Wednesday was a cold, breezy day, and the flag over the memorial snapped smartly. The largest single contributor to the 9/11 Memorial is the Starr Foundation, controlled by Hank Greenberg, the former chairman and CEO of American International Group and the largest beneficiary of the former Nixon Center.

The spire of St. Paul's Chapel, where volunteers and clergy assisted rescue and recovery workers after the attacks, and the Freedom Tower, which looks like it's about two-thirds finished. St. Paul's is an institution of Trinity Episcopal Church, nearby at Wall St. and Broadway.

Near the memorial a passerby was having a spirited and friendly conversation with an Occupy Wall St. protestor. Someone had sent pizza for the demonstrators. Vigorous debate, openness of heart and mind, generosity of spirit. How American.


Robyn Henk said...

Beautiful post Fr. John. I emailed it to my son Chris, who was friends with Lisa.

Fr. John said...

Thanks, Robyn. I couldn't quite convey how moving this place is!

Revd. Lisa said...

Lisa would have been honored by your visit and your beautiful words -- every time I see coverage of the attacks, as I've told her father, I see her standing on the stage giving her co-valedictorian speech it the gym of St. John's. Trevor Walsh, the other co-valedictorian in their graduating year, was on the streets beneath the towers that morning in NYC, as he was there for Wall St. Training for his job then in San Francisco. He and co-works ran for their lives. What are the odds of these 2 being a few hundred vertical feet apart on that fateful day?

Fr. John said...

I hadn't known that about Lisa and Trevor. Thanks, Pastor Lisa!