War Memorials are Beautiful and Intense; Maybe I Should Visit More of Them

September 11th is in 3 days.

I’m doing the social media marketing for an annual charity event held each year on the anniversary of the attacks. I thought it would be a good time to visit the 9/11 Memorial, created just in the last year or two, to mentally prepare myself for the event on Wednesday and spend some time reflecting to put myself in the right headspace leading in.

I didn’t really know at all what to expect. I waited on line and “donated” a measly assortment of quarters, nickels and dimes to get in while feeling like a jackass for never having cash on me anymore. After walking in line around what felt like an entire city block, you enter a sort of enclosed courtyard, with a few small trees and some lawn and wide, cobblestone paths.

As I wondered “What did you expect here?” I thought about other memorials I’ve been to, and my thoughts went to the Killing Fields in Cambodia: sites that commemorate those massacred during the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. I visited the best-known site, 17km south of Phnom Penh, called Choeung Ek. Very intense place, with indents in the ground where they’d have massive graves that are now covered in grass (but you still see the depression in the ground). There’s a tree where soldiers would smash the heads of babies and toss them in the air and shoot them. You listen to stories about this on a guide headset. It really leaves an impression.

A very different memorial are the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The one outside is powerful in its simplicity. It’s in the center of the city so it makes sense to have it be relatively abstract in its connection to the Holocaust; large, rectangular slabs of gray cement form a grid, and you can walk in between the rows. Grass lines the pathways, and the slabs vary in height, some are slanted, others perpendicular to the ground.

At the 9/11 Memorial, about 200 yards in to the courtyard you encounter an enormous reflecting pool. Another one lies toward the back of the courtyard; they’re both built in the footsteps of where the Twin Towers stood. They drop inward on themselves in a way I’m not explaining well, but there are waterfalls and the names of those who perished surrounding the outside of both pools. The names are arranged according to group: First Responders, Employees of Companies in the North Tower, The South Tower, passengers on Flight 93, Flight 175, Pentagon….and within all those groups, the families of those lost requested the names of their loved ones be placed next to certain other names. I saw one that was a woman’s name with “AND HER UNBORN CHILD” next to it. My cousin is a firefighter and worked in the recovery process in the weeks and months following the attack; he was fine, after not being able to get in touch with us at all that first day, and then working 24 hour shifts for the next few weeks.

All the thought and contemplation and reflection I spent today felt good in preparation for Wednesday. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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