This was the name given to the memorial at Ground Zero.
It is the first of many names at Memorial Plaza.
There are 2,983 more.
This number represents not only those lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center, but also, those at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. This is not just a memorial for Manhattanites. Or New Yorkers. This is a memorial for the nation, and moreover, the world.
For some time, debate stemmed over how to respectfully memorialize these lives. What would be put in place of the iconic twin towers? What would that mean? Who would decide what the memorial would be? When would it be constructed, if ever? It seemed an impossible compromise to make, prompting more questions than answers.
Although this nation didn’t know how exactly to fill the void, it did know it needed to be filled. Reconstructing the towers as they were was not an option, nor was refilling the foundations to build atop them. To do either would demean the importance of this place.
Ultimately, it became evident that the importance lied not in what was there, but in what was not.
It wasn’t positive space that held the greatest emotional impact for Michael Arad, architect and winner of the memorial design competition. It was what remained after everything else was removed.
The site speaks for itself. Arad has taken the only things left standing from the twin tower – the foundations – and purposefully left them empty. They each measure 30 feet deep, and an approximately an acre in size. Their enormity is only emphasized by the treatment Arad has given them: the depth of the walls is made deeper with pitch black stone tile, made ambiguous – almost bottomless – by the waterfalls streaming down them into in a basin at the bottom. The viewer’s line-of-sight seems to terminate before the moving water does. The architect explains it as “…the persistence of absence, the emptiness that remains.”
It is a permanent emptiness, preserved in time forever.
We are left with that space.
And those names.
Those names have all been given the same level of permanence. Cast in bronze, all 2,983 are raised prominently from the surface. Those who come to visit are welcome to touch them, run their hands over them, and know that this is more a place for something to be felt, not just seen. The physical dimensions of Memorial Plaza are enormous. The emotional dimensions are larger still.
2011 marks more than the passing of time. It marks a movement toward rebuilding what was lost 10 years ago. This year will mark the dedication of a permanent memorial, not only here, but another at the Pentagon. And yet another in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Memorials are made and defined by the people who come to visit, and with them, this nation will come back to life again. Chirping birds will be able to call the newly-planted trees home again. The roar of busy streets will be quelled with the sound of flowing water. The transformation into Memorial Plaza now makes this a place of peace. Though the world may be emptier since that September day, ten years ago, this place no longer will be.
Today we remember the 2,983 souls lost that day.
Today we remember those we’ve lost since and their sacrifice for this nation.
Today we remember.
Visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum site to see more images of Reflecting Absence and the other 9/11 memorials.