In my 10 years of working in the world of travel journalism, I’ve been incredibly blessed to see some of the most amazing places on earth. And I’m happy to report that many of those places are right here in the United States.
One of my great joys in traveling this country from coast to coast has been visiting the iconic sites that are proudly and uniquely American. Along the way, I’ve been compiling an informal list of places every American should visit once, places such as the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Gulf Coast and the National Mall.
On a trip to New York in April, I added a new place to my list: the National September 11 Memorial.
I was a junior in college in the fall of 2001, and I remember the day the towers fell with alarming clarity, as I’m sure you do, too. The terrorist attacks and the events that followed shook us all and dominated the national conversation for years to come.
It took more than a year to clean up the mess at the World Trade Center site and several years more to decide on what should be built in the center’s place. The design, the deliberation and the construction were a slow and sometimes frustrating process. For a nation looking for closure, the crawling progress on completing the memorial was disheartening. I remember walking around the site in Lower Manhattan on a visit in 2006 and feeling disheartened that all I saw was a roped-off construction site.
In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the National September 11 Memorial officially opened to the public; my recent trip to New York afforded my first opportunity to see it in person. I was not disappointed.
It’s difficult to accurately describe the sense of impact, honor and remembrance that the memorial bestows on visitors. Unlike most memorials around the country that make a statement with large objects, the September 11 Memorial is all about absence, creating a sense of what we collectively lost in the attacks. No skyscraper has been built on top of the former World Trade Center tower sites. Instead, the memorial has two large pools recessed into the ground, with streams of water pouring in over the sides. The pools are constructed in such a way that you can’t see their bottoms, symbolizing the eternal absence left by towers that once stood there and the people who inhabited them.
I spent about an hour at the memorial reflecting on my memories of September 11 and hearing amazing stories from New York locals. It would be easy to spend much more time there. Construction of the official museum is now wrapping up; the museum, which will open next year, will tell the stories of the World Trade Center, September 11 and the national response from a variety of perspectives.
In the midst of all the tragedy of the past year, I found my visit to the September 11 Memorial to be a source of hope and peace.
I wish you and your groups hope and peace as well, both in New York and anywhere else the road takes you.