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Bethel Photojournalist reflects on the Eleventh Anniversary of 9.11

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 Written and photographed by Paula Antolini

Story and Photos By Paula Antolini

Sometimes we need to be reminded of how lucky we are about what we have in our lives, including our loved ones, that at times we seem to take for granted. If there is anything that will bring this thought home it’s a visit to the 9/11 memorial.

I visited this sight for the first time this summer, almost with a possessed feeling that I needed to visit this site now, and stop saying I’d see it “one day.”

I would recommend it highly for everyone, especially Americans. It is an absolutely moving sight, grand in scale and yet humble at the same time, in it’s simplicity of design.

Stark yet elegantly inscribed names across two square bronze borders, lead to a waterfall over dark grey granite, on all four sides. It continues to a pool that empties into what seems like a bottomless recessed smaller square section located in the center.

There are two identical squares, with the only difference being the names inscribed, and which tower footprint they were built upon.

I was moved by the thought of the names being the only vestige left for so many people who lost so many.  Dads, moms, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, sons daughters, cousins, grandmothers grandfathers, colleagues, friends. Mind boggling.  Imagine a loved one leaving the house one day never to return, and now seeing the inscribed name on a memorial where the tragedy happened.  That thought stays with me.

There are also company names of responders who perished, in raised bright bronze lettering, every few feet in between the names of the individuals who died.  The whole memorial is perfect, in my eyes. I am glad it is here.  It serves so many, in so many ways.  You won’t know what you feel entirely, until you experience this.

I ran my fingers over one name, a complete stranger to me, yet I knew this person meant so much to someone, perhaps many.  Then I came upon the first name of my husband.  I paused and stared. This was too close for comfort.  What were the chances of me walking up to the memorial and standing in front of the exact name of my husband, I thought.  Another name that touched me was one that had the words “and her unborn child” after it.

On this day it was lightly raining and I watched the raindrops hit the water and make pretty patterns.  I also watched the rain bead up on the surface of the inscribed bronze names that seemed to go on forever, especially if you tilted your head and looked left or right down the long top surface. It was then that I realized the memorial looks beautiful no matter what the weather.  In fact, it seems almost magical how it changes its appearance in different lighting situations and presents itself anew.

To get to the memorial you snake through numerous paths between half built construction sights that are carefully protected to keep people safe. You begin to notice a rebirth as you look up at new building projects. It felt good.

As a native New Yorker who witnessed the event live as it unfolded on television, this is how I interpreted the progress.  The new, seemingly “twisted buildings” design of some of the tall skyscrapers hover over the low expanse of the memorial sight like a mother keeping watch over her child. The surfaces are shiny and reflective and in some buildings you can see the reflections of other buildings.

On the walk to the site I saw an American flag hanging off of girders and sparks flying from where a welder was working. Life goes on. Americans are determined to triumph and make things right again and as quickly as possible. We need to try and heal the wound, even though it will never heal completely, no matter what. But perhaps we can make things better for the next generation.  Let’s hope, and pray, things stay safe.

As a “baby boomer” I remembered how my parents told me about Pearl Harbor during my childhood, and how that awful event changed their lives.  I could never imagine, or really truly identify with that disaster until now. The events of 9/11 bring home what they were feeling, all those years.  Then add the present technology, as we watched the 9/11 tragedy happen in real time. Unimaginable.

It’s hard to believe it has been 11 years.

Your eyes are filled with so many sights as you stand at the 9/11 memorial, trying to take it all in, and wondering how it will look once all the construction is done and and barriers are removed.

I remember how much controversy there was about what the memorial should look like, or where it should be placed etc., but now that seemed a mute point, as your eyes are constantly drawn back to those names in bronze.  With water cascading down the sides in unison and the deep pools of reflection, it all seemed so peaceful and right.

Personal Memories

The day the tragedy happened I was a new Mom, having taken a plane trip half way around the world, three months earlier, almost to the day, to receive our adopted daughter on June 10, 2001.  She was one year old when we received her.

Yes I certainly DID think of all the “what ifs,” remembering that the first leg of the flight was from NY to Alaska, and that the terrorists had chosen long flights with full gas tanks, for their horrible task.  The adoption trip was emotional in a good sense, but I can’t even imagine having to fly after 9/11 to that far away destination.  My husband and I felt blessed on the timing.

On September eleventh my baby daughter sat on the floor beside me playing, and I was working on my computer with an ear to the Today Show on a small television, when that first plane hit the tower.  I woke my husband up and said “you better get into work early, a plane just crashed into the twin tower.”  This is when we still thought it was an accidental plane crash. He was a photo editor for a major NY newspaper at the time, on the later shift, usually arriving to work at noon, but I knew this would be no regular day.

By the time he brushed his teeth the second plan hit and everything changed forever.

When he was heading out the door both towers had already collapsed.  It seemed surreal.

I remember watching footage of what was probably thousands of people roaming around NY city in a daze or denial, holding crumpled rush-printed computer print outs of their loved one’s photos and names, showing it to passers-by and news media, in the attempt to locate that person and hold on to a shred of hope.  I remember cars plastered with these computer sheets, and impromptu walls of these tiny paper posters too, wherever there was an expanse of empty space, and hope.

I remember turning on my video recorder, so I could preserve what it was like as it was happening, for my daughter.  Not just the tower attack and collapse, and other plane crash details, but the aftermath of human suffering, and the details of the attack that unfolded as more days passed.  And finally, the memorial ceremonies and endless funeral footage with long lines of police and fire fighters saluting and the speeches by President George W. Bush and Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Everyone thought there would be some survivors trapped in the buildings. There were few. Even the medical staffs of New York hospitals stood by at the ready outdoors, for ambulances that nerve came.  I think just one woman in a staircase survived along with two fire fighters who were carrying her down.  Miracle.  From what I understand, everything else was pulverized.  Two entire buildings of computers, desks, a restaurant at the top etc. and yet nothing came out whole.  Even the first responders had never seen anything like that.

I knew one Westchester County firefighter well, who had helped.  When I asked him if he had been to the site during the aftermath, he said, “Yes,” and the look on his face told me not to ask another question.  His expression spoke more than words ever could.

Go see the memorial.

Value our military and thank any soldier you see back here in the states.  I do this all the time.  A simple thank you means the world to them.  They do so much, they need to know we know that, and appreciate it.

We must never forget why we can still hug our loved ones tightly, and live free.

Note: The memorial was conceived by forty-two year old Michael Arad from Israel, who also contributed substantially the design.  When completed, the park will be a tree covered plaza with a Memorial Museum.

About the author:

Paula Antolini is a Photojournalist, Photographer and Graphic Designer.  Photojournalism and Event Photography in Connecticut, New York and surrounding area. To learn more, click here.

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Kerry Anne Ducey

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