A mother to her young child, as we started down the ramp to Ground Zero, impatience and anxiety in her voice, “It’s a different kind of museum.”
The worst was the object labeled “Composite”. It had its own separate place, somewhat apart from the other objects, in a black-lined display case, illuminated from above by a single beam of light. About the size of a kitchen table I guess. The sign for it said that it amounted to perhaps four or five or six floors of Building One, “pancaked” you know (remember how they kept using that word?), and that technical scans of it (pictures provided but I did not look at them) indicated that it did not contain human remains.
But you know it did. You know it did. How could it not, when the towers were filled with people?
Families had donated objects lost from their people—wallets, shoes, last words on telephone answering machines. We heard the words of valiant firefighters who did not know, or perhaps they did know, that they were going to die very soon.
We gazed upon smashed fire engines, crumpled steel beams, disintegrated stairways.
Images of the jumpers, concealed in an alcove with posted warnings. The brave jumpers, I always thought. To make such a terrible choice. The sign said there were thought to be fifty to two hundred of them. How come they don’t know how many? I wondered to my husband. Well, he pointed out to me, dense thing that I am, the buildings pancaked upon them.
A picture of dozens of gurneys in the street, each with a sheet upon it, waiting for the injured, who were beyond help and who would never come. A long line of blood donors, waiting patiently with their good intentions, to give blood for those who might need it, those who never came because they were lost forever.
Evening, and darkness, had fallen when we came up out of the museum, and paused again to regard the watery memorial, the black holes washed endlessly, and the names, gently illuminated. There were children there, and people too young to have understood, in 2001.
There will come a time when almost no one remains who truly remembers, and then this will all—the Memorial and the Museum—become just another thing to see when you go to New York City. Perhaps like the Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery in France, beautiful places but without the freight of somber memory. Like The Wall in Washington, D. C. I suppose that is good, that we should not carry burdens of grief forever. As time passes we lay down the oldest burdens, for there are always new ones to shoulder. Those children, at the September 11 Memorial and Museum, they will surely have their own to carry, in due course.