When, thirteen years ago, I gazed upward as an inflamed One World Trade Center descended towards the streets of Lower Manhattan, I anticipated a few images. News flashes. Tears. Gravestones. Hopefully, a healed neighborhood and a renewed sense of hope.
But commemorative sweatshirts?
The 9/11 Museum is now open to the pubic, completing the eight-acre area designated to remembering that horrific day over a decade ago. Ever since the Memorial opened on the ten-year anniversary of the attacks, the commercialization and influx of tourists have made Lower Manhattan everything but what it was meant to be. Instead of sharing history, we're selling mugs and scarves.
To be sure, memorials have their place. If there is anything positive that can come from the greatest attack on America's mainland in history, it's our ability to share our grief with the world and gather through empathy. But when I picture foreigners -- the vast majority of whom have zero connection with the attacks -- showing off their 9/11 apparel to their friends alongside their Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty memorabilia, I have a painful feeling that we have missed our goal.
From the beginning, the Memorial felt far more like a mass-scale production than it did a true effort to commemorate the attacks. It started with the media frenzy surrounding the rush to open the Memorial on the ten-year anniversary, followed by the tourist filled, roller-coaster-like-lines to enter the site, and now is topped off with the tour groups exiting onto West Street sporting wide smiles, digital cameras, and yes, 9/11 hoodies.
For anyone who actually experienced the horrors of 9/11, this grandiosity is not welcome. Personally, the emotional battle of losing my home, being displaced from my city, and finally being able to return has been enough. I was excited when I first learned we would have a place to quietly remember -- that the attacks would rightfully live on in a subdued, reflective fashion. But when the ribbons were cut, the crowds set in place, and the city shut down for the President's visit, I felt invaded and alienated, lonelier than ever.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is here to stay. For years, I envisioned a revived Lower Manhattan with skyscrapers and plazas even grander than before, with men and women swarming off to work just as they did -- a true refutation of terror. But instead, Ground Zero will forever be Ground Zero -- a lavish presentation for people as distant from the attacks as possible, with some buildings off to the side, squeezed against the city streets.
When we look back on that sunny day thirteen years ago, it ought to be contemplative and intimate, not commercial and imposing. If our guests insist on heading home with a gift, let it be the gift of empathy, not a $22 t-shirt.