December 1995: my first visit to New York City. The Big Apple. So much to see. The famous World Trade Centre was definitely on my “must-see” list. However, I never got past the lobby. Being holiday season, the queue to go up to the observation deck snaked through the lobby and I was short on time. “You can always come back next time,” my friends suggested. So we left. There was never a “next time” for the Twin Towers.
After the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, “Ground Zero” became almost sacred ground. It was the resting place of almost three thousand people. When the dust settled (literally), discussions began about the best way to honour the victims, including the First Respondents who perished during the rescue efforts.
One thing was agreed – that new towers would not be rebuilt where the old towers stood. Instead, a 9/11 Memorial with two reflecting pools featuring North America’s largest man-made waterfalls, would take the place of where the original towers were.
When I next returned to NYC in the spring of 2013, the 9/11 Memorial had just opened. Work on the museum was still in progress. Construction of what was then-known as the Freedom Tower nearby was progressing. Entry to the reflecting pools was surrounded by tight security and long queues. Though entry was free, all visitors were encouraged to book tickets online ahead of their visit, which we did. Still, we were met with a queue of hundreds of people (may have even been over a thousand).
Once past security checkpoints, you could immediately feel the change in atmosphere. Despite the large crowds, the air was heavy with silence as people paid their respects. Some were mourning those they had lost, while others were simply admiring the beauty of the architecture of the pools.
Though neither my friend nor I had lost any friends or family members to the 9/11 attacks, she hailed from Pennsylvania, where a separate and simultaneous attack had taken place when the passengers and crew managed to overcome the terrorists and take down a plane, causing it to crash on an empty field. On my part, a close family friend had been in the second Tower when the first one fell and had narrowly escaped death on that day (I documented this story on the 10th anniversary of the attack). We were both so emotionally drained by the end of our visit that we remained speechless for a long time after we left.
When I returned to NYC again in the summer of 2015, the new One World Observatory had opened at the new One World Trade Centre. During our brief ride in the “sky pod elevator” that took us up to the observatory deck, we watched in awe at the time-lapse video covering 500 years of New York history. When we exited the elevator, we arrived at the observatory theatre and the revelation at the end of the short video was truly breath-taking.
There’s a saying: “On a clear day, you can see forever”. Today, New York City continues to thrive and defy the odds. Inspired by visions of the future, at One World, New Yorkers and visitors from near and far, come together, united by hope to see forever.