If you have ever visited the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan, you know what a powerful and moving experience it can be. The two pools, standing exactly where the towers stood on that sunny September morning, stretch across the empty concrete canvas left behind after so much terror. The crowd is hushed and somber, the only sound the cascading water pushing down. The water levels out momentarily before plunging, even further, into what appears to be a bottomless pool. Bottomless as the grief and sorrow felt that day.
If you stood between the two pools, and felt the weight of that grief and sorrow, you were not alone. Interspersed between the tourists catching a glimpse of history, and children too young to understand the enormity of their surroundings, you could spot the people who were overwhelmed by emotion. Those who remembered that day vividly, and who felt the pain and grief as if it was happening all over again.
I too felt that grief. So powerful it took my breath away. And I began to weep. I found an empty bench and sat, under the shade of a tree, to collect myself. But I could not stop crying.
I was crying for all those lost. Their names carved into the stone surrounding the pools. Name after name after name. So much promise and hope and desire behind each letter. So much destroyed. I cried for my own memories of that day. Watching the terror play out live, on the television in my classroom, in front of my confused and concerned students.
But, after almost an hour of trying to collect myself and move on, I realized that I was crying for so much more than that. I was crying because of the timing of their deaths.
They died at work. Not with their loved ones. Not on a well-earned vacation. But at work.
I hoped that they were happy in that moment, that they were following their passions. I hoped that, moments before the terror hit, they were living their potential and their best lives. But I couldn’t help but think of those who were not.
In that moment, seconds before the first plane hit the first tower, were they happy?
Or, were they dreaming about a time when they would be happy? A future that would never happen? Did they have aspirations to travel more? To write that novel? To chase that dream? Did they wake that morning cringing as the alarm jolted them into reality? Did they have to motivate themselves to report to a job that no longer fulfilled them or sparked joy?
What would they would have done differently had they known?
Sitting on that bench, I imagined what those who died that day might say to me. Their voices were loud and clear over the hushed rhythm of the falling water.
Live, they said. Live.