My final afternoon in the city, I visited Ground Zero.
[Side note: by "ground zero" I mean the place where the World Trade Center used to be. There are those who think "ground zero" is a poor name for it. That's the name by which the area is now commonly known, so it's the name I've been using. I think that its name is irrelevant to the much more important issue of what it was like, seeing and experiencing it. Awhile back, I tried to tell somebody this story, but never got past arguing about the name, so I never got to talk about what was important to me about the experience. The good thing about journaling it is that I don't have to argue the details or be interrupted; I can just tell what I think.]
I felt incredibly confused, visiting Ground Zero. What was it like? Quite honestly, "conflicted" is the best word I can use to describe how I felt about it. I didn't know how I felt, or at least I kept changing my mind about how I felt. The actual area is still barricaded off, and each street has police officers keeping people away from getting too close. Basically, all I could see was Nothing. And that was what we were all there to see: Nothing. Just an empty space where giant skyscrapers had once been. Empty space where just months ago thousands of people had lived and worked and died.
The area is completely leveled now. Standing on the ground, all I could actually see were cranes, doing excavation work of some sort. I could not see the ground, nor the rubble I assume is still there, being excavated. That girder you see in all the pictures, the last standing part of the building, has been removed. At one point I think I saw a bunch of steel girder parts piled off to the side, but I'm not sure. The surrounding buildings had broken windows, large damaged chunks covered in plastic and wood. One skyscraper had netting covering its entire side, the side that had faced the destruction. I don't know how big it was, but it looked huge. I kept thinking about how much netting that had to have been, how much work to sew the individual pieces together, to cover the entire building.
We circled the entire affected area. Each time you'd get to a street that used to approach the WTC, there would be a crowd of people pressed up against the barrier, trying to see inside. Holding up cameras above their heads to take pictures and videos. Climbing up to see better, or peering through holes in the fence. It was mobbed. I kept wanting to think to myself, "damn tourists." What were they all doing there? But then again, what was I doing there?? Really the same thing! Why was I there? I don't know. I felt like I needed to see it, needed to somehow experience firsthand the tragedy that had so profoundly affected our nation, our world. But what was I trying to see? Nothing - we were all looking at nothing, and that was the whole point. The World Trade Center was gone.
It felt so weird, so wrong, that this terrible place had become a tourist attraction. I felt wrong for wanting to be there, and yet I couldn't imagine not going. What was I doing there? Was I a just tourist, a voyeur, attracted to the latest macabre adventure? Was it the ultimate in Reality Television? Or was I a student of humanity, trying to grasp the enormity of the unthinkable evil that had been committed against all of us? I'd like to think it was the latter, but I just don't know.
All over the city, street vendors were selling hats, t-shirts, all kinds of stuff, that said NYPD and FDNY on them. There was also tons of red-white-blue apparel, photos of the WTC, flags,etc, all being sold for a profit. A part of me wanted to buy a FDNY shirt myself, because I have such high respect for those many firefighters who lost their lives, climbing bravely up the stairs with 100 pounds of equipment on their backs past everyone else fleeing down those same stairs. I wanted to somehow commemorate them. Or was it just because I wanted a souvenir of my awful sightseeing jaunt? I couldn't decide if it was a sign of respect or of disrespect. Every third person you looked at seemed to have a hat or headband with the NYPD or FDNY logo on it. Did I just want to be one of the crowd? I finally decided to only buy something if proceeds actually went to the organization it was displaying, and never found something that met that criteria.
There were also lots of memorials, along the fences and walls. Flowers, money, candles, pictures, patches, shirts, hats, letters, banners, all kinds of trinkets that presumably had special value to those lost. I know what it's like to lose somebody. There had to have been many people who had lost partners so suddenly, just like I. It made my heart ache, to think of so many grieving souls. I kept wondering what S would have had to say about all this. I kept wondering what the various police officers, relief workers, construction people, etc, who belonged on the disaster site, who were actually doing something useful there, thought of all of us sightseers mobbing the fences.
It started to get dark, and they turned on lights like for a nighttime baseball game. But it wasn't a game. We could see even less of the Nothing than we'd been able to see before. It was bitterly cold out. My heart felt like it would never warm up, and as we walked back to the car nobody really had anything to say.