Hey Everyone! Dez here. Today’s article is my personal reflection on 9/11 after visiting the 9/11 museum recently. I felt like it was important to reflect because of how moving/powerful the museum itself is, and how transformative this day truly was.
Within the 9/11 museum there is a large gallery, and within that gallery are portraits of every individual who lost their lives on this deadly day, twenty years ago. The portraits are framed in neat rows, in alphabetical order, and the individuals hang on the walls as they hang in the air, with graceful presence. When you are confronted with the nearly 3,000 faces who died on that day, you see faces that remind you of aunts and uncles, of teachers and students, of classmates, of girlfriends, of brothers, of sisters. You see hues and tones, and tans of skin. You see black, you see white, you see young, you see old. You see tightly cropped cuts, and curly frizzy manes. You see names like Angelo, and Joseph, and Amy and Gricelda. You see the wrinkle of your pastor’s eyes, and you see the laughter behind your teammate’s smile. You see portraits from a night out, from prom, from work. You see bright yellow jackets made by Patagonia, and crisp navy suits crafted by Brooks Brothers. You see Americans. You see yourself. You see these people, and you see yourself. You know that, within that gallery, within those portraits, lies a thousand stories none too dissimilar from your own. You see the breadth of the American experience, and you feel pangs of sorrow for such senseless loss.
Until I stepped into that gallery, I never understood the scope of the attack, and how many people were affected. I was only 6 years old when the Towers fell and I was too young to comprehend the gravity of the event. I have always been a degree of separation, slightly removed from the experience, but for the majority of my twenties, I have lived and worked here in New York City. I have failed, and grown, and found love, and built a life in between these ascendant steel buildings and across cobblestone streets. New York City is my home, just as it was home to those lives we lost. My mind wanders to their stories, their sacrifice and I can’t help but wonder. Who were these people? What did they stand for? And what do we stand for twenty years later?
Luckily, within the center of the gallery there is a modest auditorium, where you can sit and listen to loved ones remember the lives that they, that we, lost. The glass plated floor looks through to the concrete foundation of the North Tower, and short anecdotes are projected onto the square walls of the auditorium. The beauty of the auditorium is that you get to hear how these people are remembered. As an “open heart with open arms” or with “eyes that could communicate without words.” Wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers, family from all walks of life lovingly breathe life into the portraits in the gallery. These people were no different from you and I. They “lived life big”, and they could make rooms full of people laugh, they were tender, they were competitive, they were caring. They were a constellation of characters, a Manhattan milieu. They were immigrants old and new. They were people young and old. They were in every sense of the words, the most American tapestry possible.
I’ve been given a glimpse into the lives they lived, the values they held, and what they may have stood for. And yet. What is most present to me, when staring at this constellation of characters is who they are, and what they represent. They represent the breadth of the American experience. They represent our country’s consistent, fallible pursuit of, a more perfect union. Every walk of life is represented in that gallery. The banker and the builder are indistinguishable. The republican and the democrat are indeterminant; the priest and the imam are intertwined. It is so glaringly clear, so brightly burned into my perspective, that what we stand for, is who we lost and who we lost is a tapestry of two thousand nine hundred and ninety-six Americans. Americans who had hues and tones, and tans of skin. Americans who left laughter, and love, and lives of joy. Americans who across race and gender and sex and religion, were pursuing a more perfect union in the smallest of ways. The questions of, who is America built for? Who is America working for? And, what does it mean, in 2021, to be American? Personally, I think it’s pretty clear. Now, more than ever, to be American means to be a part of a collective group of people from all walks and perspectives of life. It means that the fibers of our tapestry hail just as easily from North Africa and Indonesia as they do from North Dakota and Indiana. It means that on a day where we reflect on the deadliest terrorist attack in human history, a day that was an attack on the identity of the American experience, we acknowledge and pay tribute to who represented that identity. Americans who had hues and tones and tans of skin. I encourage anyone who can, to visit the 9/11 museum and I would love to hear your thoughts/reflections as well.