Hope everyone is enjoying the Holiday season. My wife and I had a wonderful time in New York City. The weather was fairly mild and pleasant compared to last year’s blizzard. On Christmas Day we headed downtown to “Ground Zero” to see the new 9-11 Memorial. We’ve been to NYC plenty of times since September 11, 2001, but this is our first visit to the site of the attacks. I guess dwelling on the events of that day and the loss of my cousin just never fit into previous visits, but after ten years and the dedication of the new memorial it was about time. We chose to go down on Sunday thinking that it wouldn’t be too crowded. The last thing I wanted to do was experience the site amongst a crowd of tourists snapping photographs.
We stepped out of the subway at City Hall and walked the few blocks south to the site. Even on Christmas Day the area was mobbed with tourists and street salesmen peddling 9-11 souvenirs. One of them shoved a collection of images of the most horrific images of the attacks in my face and asked if I was interested. I felt a combination of rage and sadness well up inside of me. As we moved closer it just got worse and by the time we arrived at the entrance to the site I felt emotionally drained and pretty much ready to leave. It was clear that most of the people waiting to get in did not have tickets and the 9-11 Memorial Volunteers did everything they could to move the crowds away. Neither did we. We lined up in a small group around one volunteer and he gestured with his hand for us to vacate the entrance way. He clearly had been engaged in the same gesture all day.
As he was moving us away I mentioned that we were family members, but did not have tickets. At that moment he stopped what he was doing and moved us to the side. He apologized profusely about the way we were treated, but I assured him that it was completely understandable. What happened next was totally unexpected. The volunteers name was Greggoire Martello and he escorted us personally away from the crowds and toward a room set aside for family members. Another volunteer asked us a few questions about our relationship to the victim and if we needed any additional assistance during our visit. We were given a packet to make an engraving and a map to guide us to panel S-44, where my cousin’s name helps to outline where the South Tower once stood. We made three etchings of Alisha’s name. A few people stopped to watch us, but they were very respectful of our privacy after which we walked a bit around the the rest of the site.
I am not going to offer any thoughts about the memorial or about my personal experience because I can’t effectively convey it with words. What I do want to say is thank you to the staff at the 9-11 Memorial. They treated us with the utmost respect and did their very best to welcome us as something other than a tourist or casual visitor. Without such a welcome I am sure that my experience would have left me feeling even more depressed and unlikely ever to return.
It must be a difficult site to manage. On the one hand the site is a memorial to those who perished on that day, but ten years later it looks like the site is just another stop in a series of tourist destinations in Lower Manhattan. New York has always been a city that moved forward rather than dwell on its past. It’s nice know, however, that when a family member arrives that there are people ready to assist them in making their visit as meaningful and as as pleasant as possible.
Thanks once again to Greggoire and the rest of the 9-11 Memorial staff. The memory of my cousin is in good hands.