I can’t quite explain the way I felt before I went to the 9/11 Memorial. I wasn’t unsympathetic or sad, hurt or terrified for the families, but having not been there myself, and not having known anyone directly affected, I think it was hard for me to process. But visiting the 9/11 museum and memorial changed my life. I knew it would be hard, but when I walked into the museum, I felt an instant weight on my shoulders. Turning that first corner and seeing all the posters of missing persons, (they called it the “Wall of Faces”) fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, uncles and aunts. The list goes on forever.
That is when I broke down, I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. There were pictures, and mementos like hats and watches, reminders of the people they all were, reminders that someone, somewhere is missing them and their hearts were shattered that day. A son will never have his father to play ball with, a daughter will never have her mother to teach her how to wear heels. It made me think of my kids, my husband, my mother, father, aunts, uncles and cousins. What if they were there? What if I was? It could have been me. It could have been anyone.
Leaving the museum to go to the memorial didn’t get any easier; we walked for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t help but notice the normal hustle and bustle of New York City. It was all around us; people rushing to get places, tons and tons of people, just like it was that day. These people just continued about their business like nothing ever happened, like it was easy. It wasn’t easy for me. I was paralyzed. It seemed like it took me forever to get there. I was in slow motion and the people created a blur as they passed by me.
My mind was racing. I was weary of everyone around me. Their conversations got louder and louder as we walked, their words echoed loudly in my head. The lack of respect from some made me angry, but maybe, like me, they didn’t know. They couldn’t process the pain. An almost eerie cold blew over as I approached the first pool; it was unlike anything I had ever seen. The completely square waterfalls poured into the pool at the bottom creating a soothing white noise perfect for reflection. There were two of them. As I ran my hand across the wall between the pool and me, I felt every bronze inscribed letter. Each spelled out the name of one of the 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.
THREE THOUSAND. Each name told a story. I wanted to know them, to tell them they are not forgotten. I don’t know if circumstances would have changed the way I felt, but knowing that the 39 other caregivers of Wounded Warriors were there, too made the pain even more unbearable. We were just a small group of caregivers selected to be on this trip. Forty caregivers of 40 service members out of THOUSANDS of seriously wounded service members. It doesn’t end there either, there are thousands more who gave their lives. Each of us will take home a different story from this experience, but one thing rings true, the direct effects of these attacks, as well as the residual damage, will haunt us forever.
I would sacrifice myself to take away the pain.