In New Memorial, Have We Remembered Well Enough?

Monday, May 26, 2014

North Memorial Pool at the World Trade Center site (Amy Dreher/Courtesy 9/11 Memorial Museum)

New Yorkers are once again reflecting on the events of September 11th as the 9/11 Memorial Museum officially opens its doors.  

We are not a city that has set aside many quiet places for reflection, and sacred is not a word we generally connect to commercial real estate. Yet from the beginning, "sacred" was the term many used to describe the site. "What you have is a very strong sense that in this one place, and at this one time, thousands of people left the secular daily world and in an instant passed over to the spiritual realm," said anthropologist John Forrest when he first spoke with WNYC 6 months after the attacks. "That has to make that place enormously powerful as a sacred place. " 

Forrest said that the task of remembering this event was significant for more than historic reasons."There may be a fear that memorializing anguish and suffering and horror is somehow bad and I think we need to get over that, because those things are the ways in which we grow as a city, grow as a nation, grow as a culture." 

Now the fences have come down around the memorial fountains. The name of each person who died that day is inscribed in stone. And each and every visitor to the site will decide if we have remembered well enough.

There will be no sharper critics than the family members and colleagues of those who died that day. Some of them are protesting the way remains have been interred. Some have found fault with the gift shop and the $24 ticket price. Some are avoiding the museum all together.

But some have found solace there. On one afternoon last week, I sat with Nancy Yambem in her backyard north of the city. Her husband Jupiter Yambem worked at Windows on the World and she said she had braced herself as she descended into the underground museum for the first time. 

"It was difficult. As you went down the escalators, that feeling of pain was coming back. It was a dark space. It was almost like going back to the time when my husband died. As we walked around it was ever present, " she said.

Yambem said that everyone who visits the museum should spend time in the part of the museum where those who died are remembered. There are nearly 3,000 photos of victims displayed and audio of stories and anecdotes. That's the heart of the exhibit, said Yambem, because you can begin to understand in some small way what was lost that day. She spent time there with her son, now a senior in high school, and her husband of seven years.   

As she described her visit, the experience appeared to have been cathartic — the kind of feeling you hope for when you enter a sacred space. "Literally when I came up the escalator as I walked out the doors, I told myself this is my life now and it’s not that pain and it’s not that terrible sorrow that was downstairs, but I had grown. We went to my husband's name on the fountain and there was a real sense of peace in that."  She added, "There was such a sense of relief — a real sense of peace in that it’s OK, we're OK, we survived it all. And that felt good."     



Sean Bowditch


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Comments [3]

Stephen Folkson from Oakland Gardens, NY

I think it is absolutely shameful that people have to pay a $24
entrance fee to this thing. I realize that they need money to
operate it, but I think either the city, state of congress should
pay this.

May. 27 2014 01:57 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

I still think it would have been better if the Twin Towers got rebuilt. What better way to remember what was lost than to have back what was taken from us that day. Compared to the costs of what is being there now, this would have been a lot cheaper and could have been done even faster. In the long run, having the Twin Towers rebuilt would be a good idea not to mention restoring the downtown skyline to what defined it so well. Instead, we allowed for a bunch of backroom decisions to dictate what should be there. Honestly, I feel that this museum is just another thing that gives the terrorists the last laugh as we continue to their wish of forever changing us. For those claiming that I wasn't in the city witnessing any of the attacks, I was on the Throgs Neck Bridge seeing the smoke from there as well on TVs all over my college campus that day.

May. 26 2014 02:34 PM

I witnessed the 9/11 attack from across the river in Jersey City. A memorial and museum are fine things, but sadly "over the top". The money spent on this is obscene, and not a tribute to the fallen. How much better it would have been to use the funds to combat hatred, intolerance, and misunderstanding.

May. 26 2014 09:03 AM

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