New York City – not just another big city to me

I adore New York City. It’s the only place on this trip that I’d visited before, and consequently was a little nervous. I am never sure about bringing people to places I love; I feel the weight of expectation to know the things they might like most about it, but more than that I worry that they might not love it as much as I do. Not that I expect all people to have the same tastes and preferences, but I feel a kind of responsibility to myself and to the place to show it to best effect. It’s ridiculous, but it’s true. It was easy to start with the most touristy spots, Grand Central, Times Square.

The wonderful-terrifying thing is, there aren’t so many places in New York City that I’ve visited that I don’t feel a particularly strong attachment to. Some of the architecture that forms a part of every “must-see” list, I do very much appreciate. But it would have been rude not to include the Flatiron building and the Chrysler building.

There was one thing that I was absolutely sure that I was going to do alone, though. I hadn’t been on my last visit, but I knew that I needed to at some point, and I felt ready. Or at least as ready as I was going to be. That one thing was to visit the 9/11 Memorial.

Abandoning my father to face New York City alone wasn’t a good option, but happily a single ticket to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty became available at short notice. I booked him on the tour, saw him safely into line at the Battery, and walked up to the World Trade Center plaza.

I think that everyone probably has their own flashbulb memories. I have never forgotten the moment I learned the news of the attacks on September 11, 2001. It’s strange. I was an ocean away. I’d visited the United States only once, and I’d never gotten anywhere near the east coast. I had no personal connection to anyone who was directly impacted. But I know exactly where I was, what I was doing, what time it was. I remember the panic, the shock, the confusion on every face that I saw.

I didn’t know quite how I would handle it, but I knew for certain that the Memorial was a place I had to visit alone.

To give credit where it is due, the Memorial plaza is beautiful. It’s calm, and somehow, despite New York City being one of the noisiest places on earth, relatively quiet. The waterfalls in the huge pools seem infinite, and manage to create a bubble of background sound, giving space for thoughts. The Survivor Tree is now planted in the plaza, a callery pear that was recovered from the rubble over a month afterwards. It was nursed back to health in a nursery in the Bronx, and I wondered just how many times humanity can rally to protect something it cares about, something it feels has been attacked. How much we are going to need that ability in the future.

I’d walked into the plaza expecting nothing. Memories flooded back, but stronger than that was devastating emotion. Horror, outrage, confusion, and a sense of powerlessness and injustice.

I sat on the ground, away from the crowds, and just spent some time thinking. How long, I couldn’t say.

I couldn’t photograph the plaza and Memorial pools, but the new structure at the PATH station is more impersonal. The Oculus is impressive, helping to step out of that space of introspection and retrospection, and back into the city.

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