With the Fourth of July landing on a Sunday, the following Monday is the day in which it’s observed, and we planned to take the girls to one of the most incredible memorials in the world: the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in lower Manhattan. We started our day with a long walk with Tiger, which is critical when we have a long day planned. He loves to get out, walk & explore, and since we would be gone for several hours, we wanted to get out as much energy as possible.
After waking up the girls, eating some breakfast and getting cleaned up, we made the walk to the PATH train station, which would take us into Manhattan. This would be our second experience using the New York Subway system, and we learned a lot the first go around. This time we were able to purchase our tickets quickly and jump on the train that would take us under the Hudson River and spit us out right at the World Trade Center station. With 45 minutes until the museum opened, we walked to a local Dunkin’ Donuts for some breakfast sandwiches and some munchkins, then we jumped in line.
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum consists of two reflecting pools with the names of every person on the stone rim around the pools remembering those who died on that tragic day 20 years ago, as well as a small building in the middle. Each reflecting pool consumes the exact same area of the original twin towers, approximately one acre each, which creates a sense of how big the buildings were, although nothing can compare to standing on the sidewalk looking up at the 110-story buildings. I had the incredible privilege of visiting the observation deck at the top of the South Tower in 1998, and I remember taking pictures from the 107th floor overlooking Brooklyn. What was incredible was when I developed the pictures when I returned home, it looked like I had taken the pictures from a helicopter or a plane. It was incredible.
The museum portion of the memorial doesn’t look like much until you get inside, and you realize that the entire museum is under the ground. Since towers 1 & 2 of the original World Trade Center were built on the bedrock foundation nearly 70 feet below street level, the excavation after their collapse led them down to bedrock once again, so the museum literally goes down to the bedrock, exposing the retaining walls built to shore up the Hudson River from ever leaking into the foundation of the buildings. It’s really incredible the excavation and preparation work that had to be completed in 1968 before construction of the twin towers ever started, as they had to remove 1,200,000 cubic yards of dirt, which was displaced into the Hudson River, creating 23 acres of new land in which Battery Park now exists. At bedrock, they exposed the footings and the incredible concrete braces used to anchor the building, something they probably never thought would be seen again as they installed these elements of the building.
We spent nearly four hours walking through the museum and, for Tammy & I, reliving those horrible events and explaining to the girls the problem of evil in the world. The terrorists committed these acts in the name of Allah, believing it was the will of Allah to kill thousands of innocent human lives by striking a blow at the United States of America. For most people who died that day, they woke up on September 11th, kissed their spouses and their kids goodbye as they headed to work or to board a flight, not thinking this would be their last day on earth. It was an opportunity to remind the girls that human beings are deeply flawed by a stain called sin, and that, left to our own devices, we can do horrific things, and none of us are exempt. It is only by the grace of God and his loving boundaries that we are able to overcome our sin nature through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which is a daily choice to follow Jesus and strive to live by His commands.
One of the fascinating displays is the area that chronicles the rise of Al Qaeda, particularly in Afghanistan, including the rise of Osama bin Laden, who was a rich, spoiled kid with money and an axe to grind. Starting in the 1980s, hatred of America and plots to attack the United States, first in other parts of the world but then on U.S. soil, began brewing. Attacks on embassies & U.S. naval vessels led to the first attempt to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993, bringing terror to the United States for the first time. It was interesting to hear the terrorists discuss their disappointment with the fact that the bombing, which happened in the garage of the WTC complex, did not do significant structural damage to the buildings, and they claimed at that time that their next attempt would be more precise in terms of their calculations to bring the buildings down. It’s a reminder that even when someone tells you what they plan to do, it’s still difficult to prevent it from happening, and now we live with the massive security at airports and other locations in an attempt to do just that. Fortunately, although we’ve had other tragedies in our country, we haven’t had another terrorist attack like 9/11 in two decades, as the twenty-year anniversary of 9/11 is this September.
What is most incredible is when you see the massive steel beams of the World Trade Center, structures that were designed to hold the incredible weight of an 110-story building, that buckled like a plastic straw when the airplanes flew into the buildings and their subsequent collapse. It’s truly remarkable to see the devastation from that day, although in a symbol of hope, one of the windows of one of the towers did not even crack amidst the sheer power of the buildings collapsing to the ground. It’s crazy to think that something so fragile was able to survive, a tribute to the resiliency of our country to withstand the tragic events and come back stronger as a result.
It was also quite moving to see the mangled remains of the fire trucks, police cars and ambulances, a reminder of the brave men & women who, in the face of danger, rushed into the buildings to help save as many people as possible. On that day, an astounding 344 firefighters, 60 police officers and eight EMTs perished helping others to safety. It’s the reason why, any time I see a person in uniform, particularly a firefighter, I always make it a point to walk up, shake their hand if possible, and say “Thank you for your service.” It’s truly the least I can do for their bravery and willingness to sacrifice for the good of total strangers.
We finished our tour of the memorial by walking around the reflecting pools outside, reading the names of so many who died that day, and it was a somber reminder to live every day as if it were your last. It’s cliche-ish, but it’s true. You never know when your time on this earth will be up, and each day is a gift from God, so make the most of it. This philosophy is one reason we pulled the trigger on buying an RV last spring in order to provide moments like this for our daughters, and it is my encouragement to anyone reading this that if you have a dream, if you have a vision for your life or for your family, don’t wait to pursue it. Work towards making it happen, as you will not regret that effort to do what God has put into your heart and your mind.
After leaving the memorial, we were starving, so we took a break and enjoyed a slice of New York style pizza at a little joint called Pronto Pizza, and the girls were amazed at the size of each slice. One slice is more than enough to fill you up, and Naomi came up with the idea of folding the pizza into a little taco to make it easier to eat. I have a feeling she will do that every time she has a New York style piece of pizza, moving forward. After a quick fill up, we were back on the street in no time to continue our stroll through Lower Manhattan.
We thanked the gentlemen behind the counter and then took the five-minute walk to Trinity Church, a place of significance for our family, as we are huge lovers of Hamilton, The Musical. If you’ve watched Hamilton or if you’ve listened to the album, you learn that Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary and the father of our financial system is buried in Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. He died at the age of 47 at the hands of Aaron Burr, his longtime friend and political rival during the American Revolution and the early years of the founding of our country. It was the fifth cemetery we visited on this trip, but it, like all the others, was a reminder that the people we read about in history books and see in documentaries were real people that lived just like us and have met the fate of all of us, to end up six feet in the ground. If there’s nothing my girls take away from this trip, I hope they have a deeper understanding for the value of their life and the reality of their impending death to motivate them to live life to the fullest.
After a few moments observing the beautiful church building, we took the two-minute walk down to Federal Hall, the first capital of the United States and the location where George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States. It’s a subtle reminder that, at the birth of the United States, New York was the center of that birth and the epicenter of everything happening to start the process of creating a more perfect union. The roads in front of and around Federal Hall are still paved with bricks, a reminder to what was at the time the innovation of a solid-surface road, one that didn’t decay and create massive ruts with heavy rains as horse-drawn carriages rode past. It definitely wasn’t a flat surface, and if you’ve driven on a brick road, you know what I’m talking about. It was neat to know that the road in front of both Federal Hall in New York, as well as the road in front of the second capital, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, are both in much of their original condition as they were in the late 1700s.
Directly across the street from Federal Hall was the New York Stock Exchange, a small, unassuming building in the midst of massive sky-scrapers, but a building which houses the largest daily transfer of money in the world, trading nearly $200 billion worth of stock each day. The companies listed on the NYSE are worth nearly $35 trillion, making it the world’s largest stock exchange by market capitalization and the epicenter of capitalism in the world today. One of these days, I’m going to ring the bell to start the day of trading on the floor, which will be an awesome site to see.
Our next stop was upper Manhattan, to actually walk through a part of Central Park, which we weren’t able to do the day we drove around Central Park. It was a nice, sunny day, so after our 10-minute ride on the subway, we found ourselves in the southeast corner of Central Park near the Zoo entrance, seeing people go about their day. There were multiple hot dog vendors, families heading towards the zoo, New Yorkers out walking their dogs, and parents sitting on park benches while their kids climbed rocks. The fascinating aspect of Central Park is that when you’re in it, you don’t feel like you’re in a major city. In some places, you can’t even see a skyscraper in site, nor hear the hustle and bustle of the New York taxis, or feel the wind that often blows through the narrow gaps between the buildings of Manhattan. The girls wanted to climb the rocks, so we did, which created a few really cool pictures of the buildings that we could see.
We then headed down to Rockefeller plaza, a quick 10-minute walk from Central Park, to hit the Lego Store. The girls had the opportunity to see it briefly a few days ago, but wanted to take me back there to see some of the incredible structures built from legos, including iconic buildings of the New York skyline and a full-size yellow taxi. For Lego nerds like us, this store hit the spot. The best part about being in the Lego Store was seeing Lego sets that you typically don’t see at your local Walmart or other retail stores. We saw some of the larger Harry Potter sets, some of which were $400 or more. We’ve never spent more than $130 on a set of legos, which still seemed astronomical, so I can’t imagine pulling the trigger on a set of plastic blocks that cost the same as owning a new car for a month. But still, it was pretty awesome to see.
After we finished geeking out in the Lego Store, we took the short walk over to Times Square to walk through it and see it in person. The area encompassing the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue between 42nd & 47th Street truly epitomizes the saying that New York is the “city that never sleeps”, and it’s something you have to see in person. We looked up at the multi-story led screens and billboards trying to imagine what it must be like on New Year’s Eve, to watch the ball drop in a sea of strangers all celebrating another trip around the sun. The energy is electric, and it’s even better when everything is up and running. We were really hoping to take the girls to a Broadway show, either Wicked or Hamilton, but the shows won’t be back until September. Not only was that a bummer for us, but it kept away a lot of patrons who would line up in Times Square to buy tickets for that night’s shows. Even with a smaller crowd, it was great to walk through the streets, see the signs and all the shops, even it was for a brief moment.
We headed back to New Jersey, knowing this would be our last opportunity to be in the Big Apple, but exhausted from the fast pace of the big city. It’s a different lifestyle to walk around the city, catch the Subway and feel lost half the time in a new city, but it was great to experience firsthand. On our walk back to the RV from the subway, we all agreed that we needed to come back to New York for a long weekend trip to go to a Broadway show, go up to the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building and possibly catch a live recording of a late night show. We ended our time in New York with a mashup meal of leftovers and spaghetti squash with some salad, started to clean up the campsite and pack everything away for the trip up to Boston the next day.