Two years ago, I watched the World Trade Centre attacks and their aftermath on TV, live as they happened. Earlier this year I visited “Ground Zero” … “The Pit”, as the site is called by native New Yorkers.
I’d been in New York for four days … each day trying to convince myself that I didn’t really need to see the 9/11 site … but I finally admitted to myself that it was something I just had to do.
I thought I was tough enough to handle it emotionally … a good enough Buddhist to handle it spiritually … but that turned out to be vanity and wishful thinking.
When I stepped out of the subway and looked across the street to where the WTC towers once stood, the terrible reality of 9/11/2001 hit me like a tidal wave, and the wall of tranquillity with which I’d carefully surrounded myself collapsed in a heap around my ankles. Fortunately I had a friend to lean on, or I would have turned and walked away. I couldn’t have handled it alone.
We psyched ourselves up and set off across the icy street. My heart grew heavier with each step. The voices of a multitude of lost spirits grew louder with each step. I felt much colder at the edge of The Pit than I had on the other side of the road.
Not much to look at through the viewing windows. A huge hole in the ground. Trucks and heavy earthmoving equipment … mostly still and silent. A few men in hard hats and bright orange safety vests. A few uniformed security guards.
Most of the rubble had been cleared away. It didn’t really look like a mass grave. More like just another big city construction site. Almost normal.
Some withered flowers. A few cards. Burned-out candles. A couple of ribbons. A small basket with an offering to some Hindu deity. Rosary beads. Photos of the pre-9/11 towers in a glass case on the wall… reflections of the way things used to be.
Street vendors selling 9/11 memorabilia and trinkets. I bought a laser-etched plastic cube with a 3D image of the WTC towers from a crippled black guy wearing Vietnam Vet ID. He picked up on my vibes and said “Don’t be sad, my brother. Be angry. It ain’t over yet.” He was right. A month later, the USA attacked Iraq. It’s still not over.
Around us, tourists were happily snapping photos and taking videos. Smile for the camera.
I didn’t smile… I cried. My friend cried too.
We stood huddled together quietly in the lightly falling snow… trying to come to terms with where we were… trying not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the massacre which had taken place on that very spot eighteen months earlier.
Even though it was an unnerving experience, I don’t regret going to see the 9/11 site… but unless I can learn how to reach out to at least one of the tormented spirits who remain trapped in that terrible place, I don’t want to see it again in this lifetime.