A Day That I Hoped for and Dreaded

After 17 years, I finally did it. We attempted to make the trip last year, but Hurricane Irma had different plans for us--I had not returned to New York since my first visit in 2000. The last time I was here, I took pictures outside of the North and South Tower of the World Trade Center. I also walked through the lobby and marveled at this massive piece of architecture as I purchased tickets from the TKTS center. We didn’t have enough money in our budget to justify a meal at Windows on the World back then—“I’ll visit it the next time I’m in town when I can afford it. It’s not going anywhere.”

For almost two decades, I knew that everything about this town…about this world…had changed, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel stepping foot onto this property again. The night before our visit there, I did the obligatory NYC things. Our Uber driver was the stereotypical hot mess as he muttered broken English, left 20 car spaces between us and the car ahead of us, and didn’t bother to run the a/c even though it was 97 degrees outside. As a tradeoff for the long day I knew was ahead, I took my wife to see a Broadway play that completely changed my understanding and impression of the bad witch from Oz. It turns out that she was just misunderstood—who knew?

I started the next morning early, long before waking my wife to begin our trip downtown. As I nibbled at a breakfast that I didn’t feel like eating, I realized that my heart was preparing itself for a funeral…17 years delayed. The closer our subway car drew to the World Trade Center, the more aware I became of my quickening pulse. To settle my angst, I attempted to guess which people in our car may have been traveling on a subway car that fateful morning so many years ago. When we finally climbed from the Subway station and stepped onto the grounds of the World Trade Center, I struggled to get my bearings with the massive familiar landmarks no longer gracing the sky. We showed our tickets, went through security, and made our way down to the museum. As we ventured into the opening portion of the exhibit, the room darkened, images began to flash on multiple screens, voices of witnesses from that day began in rapid succession, and the sting of tears welling up in my eyes betrayed the overwhelming hurt I was feeling inside. I could have easily sat down and cried on one of the many benches reserved for reflection, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or distract my wife from her museum visit. In the darkness of the hallway, I drew some deep breaths and moved closer to the first part of the excavated building. Somewhere I read that I should give myself a solid 2 hours to soak up the entirety of the museum, but the next time I looked at a clock was nearly 5 hours later. Over the course of those hours, I saw things I had only read about, I touched a foundation that had been framed and poured over 4 decades earlier, I fought back tears as I listened to voices silenced that day, and I connected with individuals who reminded me of the spirit that has driven this great country since its founding. I look forward to sharing these stories with you over the next few days. Never Forget.

-Art Hooker  

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