9/11 Memorial, Museum inspire deep reflection

A single rose sits on a name engraved on one of the reflecting pools outside the museum.

The air is different here.

As soon as I stepped through the doorway and took a breath, I felt a change in the air. It was as if the screams and sirens and obstructive debris tore through in a whirlwind seconds before the door opened for me, and I stood in the immediate aftermath of devastation in purest form. I knew this wasn’t true, of course. The destruction occurred more than 13 years ago, but nothing could have captured the awe, reverence, mourning and hope so well as the 9/11 Museum and Memorial.

The awe-struck wonder began long before I set foot in the museum. The New York streets, crowded with people to the point of panic-attack incitement only moments before, suddenly seemed completely free of chaos and pandemonium at the sight of a mural which read, “Dedicated to those who fell and to those who carry on… May we never forget.” Although the mural stood above a New York City sidewalk, the atmosphere seemed different, set apart and sacred.

Across the street from the mural sat the reflecting pools, two large concrete and granite structures where the north and south towers once stood. The granite wall around the pools listed the names of every person who died that September morning as well as those who died in the smaller attack in 1993. Inside the pools, water fell from the interior walls down into a deep chasm. As I stared into what must have once been a gaping hole and realized it was now more than half full, I reflected on the American spirit and how it was in the same shape because of the events of 9/11: once empty, it is now filling again.

Although I never knew this man, I am comforted by the fact he is remembered and loved.

— Callie Boren, 10

As I made my way around the pools and read a few of the seemingly endless names, I came across something that made the experience seem more raw, real and alive than I ever could have imagined. A single, small, white rose sat on top of one man’s name. In the midst of the concrete abyss, a beautiful living thing sat peacefully reminding all who passed by that the name beneath the flower wasn’t just a name. Whether the flower was left by a sibling, friend, spouse or parent, I will never know. It may have been left by a stranger. Seeing the flower there reminded me that the name belonged to a real man who had lived, loved, made an impact, and my heart broke knowing he had died there that day. Although I never knew this man, I am comforted by the fact he is remembered and loved.

I don’t know how long we stood at the reflecting pools. Time seemed to fall away like the water in the pools. After that time, however, we joined a moderately long line and waited to go into the museum. The wait didn’t seem to last long at all, however, because everything seemed to be a part of the memorial. At last we walked through the door, had our tickets scanned and bags searched, and entered the final leg of the journey.

The museum was divided into three parts. Because we spent only and hour and a half there, I made it through two of the wings. Every object in every room brought forth a mental image of the devastation in the aftermath of 9/11. Walls were covered with pictures of shattered vehicles, shattered buildings and shattered lives. In one room the wall was a running timeline beginning around 7 a.m. Sept. 11 with quotes from phone calls of people who attempted to stop or slow the terrorist attack and loved ones who had simply called to say “I love you.” One wall was completely covered in equally sized and spaced canvases painted various shades of blue. As I drew closer to the wall, I read a sign that said each blue square was a representation of the color of the sky that fateful morning as recalled by different individuals who were there.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a reflection of the American spirit, which encourages each of us in our own small way to fight back, rebuild and remember.

— Callie Boren, 10

Each wing was connected by an open area before the exit. The area served as a final reflection room complete with benches branching out from the center. I looked around the room as I wiped away a few stray tears, at first feeling I was out of place for showing any emotion at all, but I soon realized I was not alone. The museum and memorial moved a majority of its visitors to tears. I took a seat, reflected on all I had seen and experienced, and then looked toward the center of the room. All the people in the room were in a large circle around one large, steel pillar. A closer look showed it wasn’t there to support the roof. All the moved, mourning, awe-struck people in the room were able to look forward and see the last remaining part of the towers still standing resolute at the heart of the museum.

America is home to many life-changing historical markers, memorials and museums from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to Independence Hall in Philadelphia up the east coast to New York City. Countless sites across the nation can help Americans better understand history, but very few sites help Americans better understand Americans. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a reflection of the American spirit, which encourages each of us in our own small way to fight back, rebuild and remember. In honor of all the lives lost, those who stood in the rubble as survivors, and everyone left to carry on, the mural on the street rings as true today as it did the day by which it was inspired. “May we never forget.”