On my first visit to New York City, the site of the World Trade Center was not on the top of my list for things to see. The horribly disturbing television and newspaper images from 12 years ago are still too haunting. But I was with a group that wanted to see the memorial taking shape there, so I went along, and I'm glad I did.
It's difficult to grasp the enormity of the site where two monster buildings once stood, dominating the Manhattan skyline. Just getting to the site takes some doing. You weave through a maze of security checks and converge on a place of quiet and awe, but it's a place not terribly different from the rest of lower Manhattan, with small trees, walkways and tall buildings looming overhead.
Two fountains mark the footprints of the buildings that stood there before the greatest terrorist attack in history. Standing at the edge of the fountains, watching the water flow downward into a catch basin, flowing like unending tears, it's hard to envision the towers that stood there or the lives that ended there. Perhaps if I had been there while the towers still soared into the sky or later, when the ruins still smoldered and people raked through debris for human remains, I could more readily picture what was lost. Names of the victims of the attack are carved into the bronze border of the fountains. All around the site are additional memorials to the innocent victims and to the firefighters and others who perished trying to save others. Sellers hawk picture books about the attack on street corners nearby. It's a gloomy, mournful place.
Ground Zero (a moniker I never quite cared for) brings to mind another memorial — the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. I've visited that site just a handful of times, but each time it left me choking back tears for all of the nearly 60,000 names carved there in black marble. I touched the names of my contemporaries, names that could have been mine. As awe-inspiring as the World Trade Center Memorial is, or will be, it cannot top, for me, the emotion I felt standing beside that slash of black marble with so many names of so many lives lost too early.