Ground Zero: what else is there to say?

By on February 7, 2002

Post Sept. 11 philosophical musings have become common- I have written several- but after visiting Ground Zero I felt one more that was trying to find its form. I could run an article about the war in Afghanistan, since many have lost touch with the day-to-day events, but after seeing Ground Zero it is difficult not to get philosophical.
It is always astounding to physically see something that hitherto only existed in what Stephen King calls “the glass teat.”
Television is known to desensitize, and the constant re-broadcasting of the second plane flying into the second tower makes people lose a sense of what truly happened.
Of course the networks had to replay it; Sept. 11 was one of the most newsworthy events in history. Furthermore, I am not saying that people do not care anymore- of course they do. Everyone does. But seeing the devastation evokes a profound perception of harsh reality that the television cannot. Seeing it also gives one an important sense of closure.
When the opportunity arose to visit the site, I was reluctant. I played the role of the more mature individual who did not need to gawk, and I frowned upon my friends who felt it was necessary to go. I rejected rubbernecking of this magnitude. After much persuasion, I caved. I felt at least I could tell people I was there.
I went with my girlfriend Lauren Pease and a friend Alan Shemper. We met two more friends Mary Farley and Ethan Floogleman in Hoboken, N.J. We took the PATH train into New York City and then took the subway just outside Ground Zero. As we approached the site, I imagined how loud it must have been that morning. I kept looking in the dark sky. There was an indescribable hush in the air, and everyone spoke quietly, as if we were truly at a wake. I felt sick.
Mary was on the 40th floor of the first tower, and after the impact that she thought was an earthquake, she helped a wheelchair-bound woman down 40 flights through the blinding smoke and debris. She received messages from her friend on a two-way pager that said, “You got bombed.” The words were not calming, but the immediacy of them depicts the awful sense of urgency that was felt that morning. Mary does not talk about the events much; as we approached Ground Zero I watched her expressions closely.
When we came within one block of the observation deck, we saw the vast memorial in front of a small church. It is a tall wrought-iron fence adorned with missing person photographs, religious icons, and American flags. Mary began to cry as we walked along the stretch of sidewalk, surveying all of the lost faces.
There was a long line at the end of the memorial, and we waited at the end of it. Alan noticed that most of the other people had tickets in their hands, so he walked to the front of the line to ask the security guard where we could get some. She informed him that they were distributed free of charge at South Street Seaport. She told him that after 7 p.m. she would let people in if time allowed.
We waited on line for an hour in the arctic temperature, and then we were led to the waiting ramp that was just before the observation deck. It felt like a boarding ramp for a rollercoaster. Alan noticed a family taking pictures in front of the deck. They were posing with grins as if they were in front of the Statue of Liberty.
These people did not have ill intent, but Alan was quick to call them several different four letter words. He did this quietly, but loud enough for me to hear him. These individuals bothered me, too.
Each group of roughly 50 people was given 15 minutes on the observation deck, and after the people in front of us were told to leave, we were given clearance. Walking up the ramp gave me a feeling that I never had felt before. Mary started to cry again.
We were able to get to the deck’s edge, and the site of the gaping hole in the earth was enough to break anyone’s heart. Imagining the incinerated remains of the thousands of innocent Americans was too much to bear, and now I heard Mary sobbing loudly.
My head rotated as if I were at a tennis match, because there was so much to take in. I frequently looked up at the sky to imagine what it was like that morning. There was nothing to block the icy January winds, and my eyes were tearing and my nose was running. I did not want it to look like I was crying.
No one spoke. It did not feel right to speak. The crowd stood silent and motionless for the 15 minutes, until we were asked to move on. As we descended the ramp, there was still nothing to say. I felt empty but fortunate to have seen it.
“So what do we say about it? It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t enjoyable, but I feel glad that I saw it. What can you say? I think I want to write an article about having nothing to say when faced with an unmentionable disaster.”
Alan knew there was nothing to say, so he replied, “Where do we eat?”


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