Thirteen years since I last walked the streets of the big apple. The dazzling buildings still pull and captivate this small town girl as I gaze at the crowds.
Tourist stuff is hard work, and I walk until my backaches. But, I’ve came to see the sights, and hells bells all these people pushing and shoving aren’t going to keep me from my destination.
There, I spot the sign, tickets here.
“Ma’am, How much are the tickets?”
“Free, go to the back of the line.” She doesn’t even look up, poor thing looks tires too.
I wait for about an hour then leave with my ticket. Hurry up and stand in line, like cattle at the Fort Worth stock show moving through turnstiles that’s how I feel as the lines grow longer, I plaster on a tired smile.
Where in the hell did all these people come from I wonder clutching my ticket and praying for a cool breeze to ease the hot, stifling air. The sound of shuffling feet and complaining people all around continue moving, with one end and one purpose. A hole in the clear sky above reminds everyone of what’s missing.
I reach the tent door and relief surges as I enter. The garden must be just beyond, but my excitement is short lived when once inside the stifling tent.
“Proceed to that table ma’am.”
I acknowledge the young security officer, and follow the sheep in front of me beginning the process to prove I’m no threat to this great city.
Like most southern women I glow, not sweat, but moving with the long lines, moisture begins dripping from my brow, and I’m quite uncomfortable. This is not how I expected to spend my afternoon, glowing with strangers. There’s light at the end of my line, another open door, and I keep my eyes focused ahead, hoping my salvation is near.
I follow the trail of people, the walkway too narrow to do anything else. I’m beginning to think coming here wasn’t such a good idea. To endure these crowds, stand in long lines, and in this ungodly warm weather must have been a brief moment of insanity.
At last, an iron door in the open gate welcomes the herd of people, and a hush falls over the murmuring crowd.
The jokes and complaints stop; voices lower to whispers as we enter the gardens, including mine. The pushing and shoving lessens and I hear the rush of water flowing nearby as I make my way toward the center.
Images of that fateful day flash through my mind when I reach the edge of granite. Names, hundreds of names, I move my hand over them touching one after another. Too many to read, innocents and heroes forged together by one event in time. Water cascades down in a deafening roar. The imagination of the monument astounds my mind with both beauty and sadness.
Overhead a flag hangs from a crane. The new towers are yet unfinished. Freedom, the word freedom pops in my head. The cost is so high, and we keep paying. Water, like teardrops, splatter among names when I think of all the open doors they rushed through that day.
To linger longer is difficult. I search for the open gate, and turning my hand drop to the granite for support. As I leave, I notice the transformation of people entering the open gates go from arrogant, rushed, and angry to a reverent calm.
Every day we all walk through open doors, yet I’ve walked through none that has affected me so profoundly as today. Open doors lead to experiences good, bad, or indifferent. Behind some doors are opportunities and others just the groceries I’m there to buy. Seldom do any of us truly understand what lies waiting on the other side. Whether for reasons of trust, curiosity, duty, need, or desire, I like millions of others, walk through open doors without hesitation.
Today passing through these open doors, I’m witness to sacrifice for freedom. Freedom that some envy and fear, but which cost too many dearly. Too often, the price paid is taken for granted.
My brain’s spinning, a bit more introspection than I’m used to, but I’ve a little more pep in my stride now as I leave the 911 monument and walk toward my hotel. What I’d thought would only take a couple of hours has taken most of the day. It’s been worth the time, for now I share a little pride of New Yorkers, and my aching back doesn’t seem important any longer.