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We Remember: Newly-Completed 9/11 Memorial Holds More Than Emotional Impact

Reflecting Absence.

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.

1 WTC building

1 WTC, formerly known as Freedom Tower, is the main building of the new World Trade Center complex.

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.

We remember.

Visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum site to see more images of Reflecting Absence and the other 9/11 memorials.

Main image credit to Cizzybone on Wikipedia. In-text image credit to edenpictures.


Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.

Comments

  1. JPorretto

    Very well written, sir.

    I’ve been watching the making of these memorials and the manufacturers actually bring family members in to see their lost loved one’s names being engraved. They also arranged the names with relevance. For example, fiances – who normally would be separated if sorted alphabetically – were put next to each other. They really went above and beyond.

    • Eric

      Thank you, Jeff.

      It took them years of debate to come to that decision, and a year in arranging the names alone…but they managed to honor all 1,200 or so requests. Didn’t know that the families got to take part in the manufacturing experience. Like you, I’m continually impressed how mindful and sensitive everyone involved in making this was.

      • Amanda

        Yes–so much planning went into the name placement–and I agree, that makes it so much more heartfelt! I love that they put heating elements under the names too–so that they are warm to the touch year round. How awesome! I can’t wait to visit the site sometime.

        • Eric

          They’ve really thought-through the experience of coming here, and not just face-value aesthetics. Again, I cannot do anything but compliment the minds [and hearts] behind this place. The small touches sometimes make the biggest impact.

  2. Jen

    Great first post Eric! Welcome to the squad!

    Reading this almost brought a tear to my eye. What a nice way to memorialize 9/11, the park and fountian looks wonderful. I can’t wait to visit NY someday. This memorial will be on my list of sites for sure!

    • Eric

      Thank you, Jen, and ditto: the next time I find my way out to New York, this’ll be this first place I visit. Sure has come a long way since I was there last in 2006, and all for the better.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    There are so many powerful and moving lines here, Eric, that I wouldn’t know where to begin — other than to say that this a stunning debut post, of course. And kudos on the amount of information and backstory on the memorial that you’ve included.

    “We remember,” indeed.

    Welcome to the Squad! :)

  4. amy

    Quite a debut post indeed Eric! It’s so nice to read that so much work and effort went into creating this memorial, and with so much emphasis put on how the families and individuals that lost someone on this tragic day felt about it.

    • Eric

      This wasn’t an easy thing to create, and every day I’m reading more and more about how much argument went into this. A lot of people had to stand-up to a lot of opposition, but in the end, I’m grateful that the wishes of the families remained their top priority. +1 for America.

  5. Jill Tooley

    I’m with Joe — there are so many moving phrases in this post. You did a beautiful job of blending the tragic elements with the hopeful ones. I think this is my favorite section:

    “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.”

    SO well said. This site will always carry a heavy association with it, of course, but these memorials breathe new life into it and give people a reason to feel optimistic again. That’s invaluable. We’ll never forget, and because of these memorials we now have even more reasons to reflect.

    Thanks for this heartfelt debut contribution. Welcome to the cool kids’ club! ;)

  6. Bret Bonnet

    Do they give away awards for the BEST blog post?… Because they should! :)

    Nice post Eric.

    Hot damn… CNN… Fox News… Are any of you hiring? Eric can sing, dance, AND write. Can you say… WINNER!

    I’ll never forget the morning of the attack. It was so surreal. Almost impossible to believe. I swear it felt like the whole world paused, at the same time, for just one moment, if anything… in almost utter shock.

    I’m proud to be an American! :)

    • Eric

      You ever feel so inclined to start awarding the QLP equivalent of the Pulitzer, Bret, well, I won’t argue with you. But, seriously, thank you. I think I’ve said what I hoped to, and it took a good long while to figure out what exactly that was.

      On a lighter note…I think I’ve managed to round-up the majority of patriotic stress balls as [badly-needed] decoration for my cube. When you’ve a chance, come by and check out “the ranch.”

  7. Eric

    I’m glad the city – and nation – can claim ownership of this place again, and really, the simple things make the biggest impact on me. The families and friends will always have a memorial, while the city now has a living, breathing public space. We can make it an everyday place again. With those trees, the water, benches…I imagine it’d be a nice place to sit with a friend and enjoy your lunch break. That means a lot, too.

    It’s something we’ve gained in the time since, which I think is what makes this year special.

  8. Amanda

    Great first post Eric! I am so glad you tackled one about 9/11–You did an excellent job saying all this in just the right way. =) Welcome to the blogsquad!

    I also have been watching many of the 9/11 shows on tv, and will watch several more this weekend, I’m sure. I think they did a great job with Ground Zero. It’s perfect–brings life back into that space while still preserving the memories of what was before.

  9. Cybernetic SAM

    Very well done. I just hope this we never have to make another one of these, I hope at least this country won’t have to go through something like this ever again. This one thing for better or worse, we all have in common; as you said, “we remember.” I still remember the haunting image of “the falling man” an image burned into your memory, representing the reality of it. Seeing the buildings in that state didn’t seem real, but seeing human life trickling out of the building brought reality. So, something as detailed as all the names and what Jeff said about putting friends, husbands and wives, children and parents and fiances together really will commemorate and help people take in the magnitude of this piece of history.

    • Eric

      Magnitude can be a hard thing for those who weren’t yet born then to understand. When I first read about a memorial, I was hesitant. The most meaningful thing I’d seen were the “Towers of Light” they created annually by grouping two huge masses of spotlights, the same as the towers were grouped next to another, and shining them brightly into the night sky. Having those footprints there still lets us know where these buildings stood, and just how big they were. Even those too young to form words will experience the magnitude of this place. Those names – kept warm even in winter – are universally accessible. I think that says something for a very mindful design.

  10. Mandy Kilinskis

    Excellent post, Eric.

    The new monument is truly a fitting tribute to the victims and will serve as a wonderful reminder. Unfortunately, all I meant to say has already been said (and probably said better than I could) by our coworkers, so I’ll just agree with all of the comments already left.

    Welcome to the Squad!

  11. Eric

    Thanks for the warm welcome, Mandy. I spent the majority of my day yesterday watching the television coverage of the day’s events, and the first thing I saw was the reading of the names at the memorial. There was a definite change in tone, and despite the fact that the emotions of the day remain very much the same as they were ten years ago, now the families and friends are beginning to come to peace. That was the biggest accomplishment of this memorial, and all those who helped contribute to making it happen.

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