Sunday, September 9, 2007

Another September in Lower Manhattan

As soon as Lower Manhattan reopened to the public after the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 2001, visitors started arriving. They're still coming.

At first the visitors left flowers, photos, candles, mementos and notes that they pinned to the metal fence surrounding the site. Now, they mostly look at the construction equipment and the few displays near the site, perhaps buy a booklet or a New York City baseball cap from a souvenir vendor and take photographs. But it would be a mistake to think that most of them are just gawking. A week ago, I walked by the World Trade Center site and asked a few people at random where they were from and their thoughts about what they saw there.

To my surprise, everyone that I happened to talk to came from outside the United States, with the exception of one man who was working at 2 World Financial Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and had brought his daughter and two of her college friends to see Ground Zero. I spoke to four Italians, a young man from Belgium, a woman from Spain and a Catholic priest from England.

The Spanish woman said to me in halting English, "The pain is our pain. In Spain, we had the same in Madrid on March 11 with the train that was bombed. We cried for the American people and we cried for the Spanish people, too. We are brothers because we’ve got the same pain." When we parted, she kissed me on the cheek.

And so another September 11 approaches. There will be speeches, the reading of the names, and there will be flowers pinned to the chain link fence. And visitors will continue to come. Should you be among them, be sure to visit St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway. The chapel was finished in 1766 and is Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use. This is where George Washington worshipped after he was inaugurated as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789.

Miraculously, considering how close it is to the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's survived the attack. In the aftermath of the destruction, the chapel was used by rescue workers as a place to eat and rest. Scuff marks from their ash-covered shoes are still on the pews.

Usually, the chapel is open from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. On Sept. 11, the chapel will be open to the public from 8 a.m. for prayer and reflection.


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