I visited Ground Zero for the first time today. Despite several trips to and through New York since a longer 5th grade sightseeing venture, I never got further south than the Lower East Side or the Port Authority.
That changed today, when I had several free hours between my arrival from Williams and the flight to Atlanta (where I am writing this post while appreciating the irony that my flight has free wifi while the airport it departed from has no internet available at all.) But I digress: using my MetroCard, I took an A and then E train to the Wordl Trade Center Station, without map or expectation, and to my surprise, emerged across the street from Ground Zero (so named on the night of the events, the same day I turned 13. But that is a different story).
I was a little shocked to come out of the station next to this aerial gap; while a tower is being constructed, one still gets the feeling that something larger used to fill this space; the scar is still present, if obscured by the fence and website advertising the memorial effort. But then I turned around, and to my surprise, saw a littel graveyard with people wandering around, and behind that, a little church.
It was, I now know, St. Paul’s Chapel, and I faintly recalled the news stories about how volunteers and rescue workers found aid, shelter, and comfort within its untouched walls as they labored to shift through to toxic rubble (ahem, Zadroga Bill). So strange to see such old graves, such as a French her from the Revolutionary War, standing next to the place where the battles we fight today in Afghanistan began. I marveled and observed the old graves with curiosity, but short of a brief moment when I came out of the station, the area had no strong emotional effect on me.
And then I saw the Bell, right outside the Chapel’s doors, and as I read the words inscribed (reprinted above), my eyes welled up and I felt something within me respond to the hope of the bell, and the tradition of ringing after each terrorist attack, be it in London, Madrid, or elsewhere, as a reminder of reconciliation even when bloodlusts are strongest.
But what reached me ever more was a sudden realization that in reading the words on the bell, I wasn’t thinking about “cities,” but instead people. Cities are people - collections of people, just as colleges, towns, countries, fan clubs of sports teams, and every other organization is a ccollection of people that say “I am.”
I am a Decaturite, and a Georgian. I am an Eph and a Bulldog. I am also an American, and while that allegiance resonated as I watched the bell, what struck me more was the kitchy phrase “citizen of the world.” For I recognized in that bell the connections I have with the City of New York and the people that compose it - those who lost parents or friends in the attack, and those who lived through the dire days of dust and death. I saw in that bell a window to the ties that bind all of us, even in the deepest tragedy when some reject those ties and give their lives to violence, and for the first time in months, I cried a bit. But not for fear, and not in mourning. Instead: