The digital age
PHOTO COURTESY UNSPLASH
We all have our moments when time stood still and can remember, often in exquisite detail, what we were doing upon hearing the news of the École Polytechniqe massacre, the Lac Mégantic disaster, and 17 years ago to the day at this writing, the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States that claimed the lives of over 3000 people.
Even though I was working at a high-tech company, the internet feed ambled along at comparatively low-speed infancy by today’s standards and it wasn’t long until our servers overloaded as the demand for information exceeded their capacity. My husband kept me up to date over the phone via news reports from a small television set on his co-worker’s desk.
I had two sons at the time who were too young to understand what was going on but stared wide-eyed as Mum, who had always been strict on their television consumption, carried the portable TV into the dining area and set it up on a chair to keep up to date on the developments.
Of course we now know how the whole story ended. But it wasn't until a trip to New York City last year where we got to visit the 9/11 Museum and Memorial that we learned so much more of the intricacies threaded throughout that blue-skied sunny day that ended up covered in ash.
One of the perks of being a card-carrying journalist is free entry to most North American museums and though I took advantage of it at the MOMA, I couldn't bring myself to ask for a freebie at 9/11. Even if you're not a fan of museums, I'd recommend a visit to this one, if for no other reason than to bring a modicum of closure on the day that's etched in all our memories to one degree or another.
The exterior spotless grounds are graced with deciduous Swamp white oak trees and on the footprint where the World Trade towers once stood are now twin recessed pools with water cascading down the four black granite sides of each pool, into a smaller central opening that's impossible to see the bottom of no matter where you stand. It was cool and overcast during our visit with a light rain falling into the pools, the quiet dignity marred only by a loud group smiling for a selfie in front of a memorial to the deaths of so many people.
The items curated in the permanent display include everything you'd expect to find following an event of that magnitude and while it's easy to imagine airplane wreckage and twisted steel beams as being gruesome reminders, the museum is instead a hallowed place waiting to tell all its stories.
The walk throughout is dark without being imposing and contains not only remnants of the disaster and ensuing aftermath but tributes, artwork, and letters to lives lost.
After recognizing the magnitude of the physical damage of a twisted and mangled fuselage, construction debris and fire trucks recovered from the rubble, the museum's path meanders through a sanctified collection of intimate items recovered at the site including clothing, diaries, hats, family photos, items so intensely personal that visitors are asked to refrain from photographing them.
“Are you taking pictures?” I whispered to a young man holding up his cell phone.
“Am I not to?” he asked in accented English as I pointed to the sign at the entrance. Hey, at least he wasn't grinning like an idiot taking a selfie.
While 9/11 didn't happen on Canadian soil, we sat stunned and helpless in its wake like everyone else. I went to donate blood that Tuesday afternoon at a pre-scheduled blood drive but didn't get through the doors. So many people opted to give, even so far away from Ground Zero, that Héma Québec was turning donors away.
If you happen to be in New York City, take some time to at least visit the memorial and touch the raised letters on the brass plaques naming each individual life that was lost.
And while you’re there, show some respect and decorum.