TriBeCa. Lower Manhattan, New York. Saturday, mid afternoon. A group of tourists, complete with cameras and guidebooks, stop my boyfriend and I and ask us where the viewing platform for Ground Zero is located.
We blink. They blink. Then we point to the long line of people wrapped around several blocks. “There,” we say, but we are thinking something else. One of the women grabs my boyfriend's arm and asks if there are refreshments served at the site while another asks me how much she should pay for a September 11th T-shirt.
“I don't want to get ripped off,” she says, smiling at me. My boyfriend and I blink again and look at one another.
Did we hear correctly? What's going on here?
Sunday, late evening. Riding the A train subway line to lower Manhattan. A man sits with his two daughters, clearly out-of-towners. The daughter has a checklist in her hand and a guide book on her lap. She turns to her father and says, “We've seen The Empire State Building, Times Square, the Disney Store and so tomorrow we'll do the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero.”
The father yawns, and says sleepily, “Great honey… I'll enjoy seeing Ground zero.”
When did the huge gaping hole where over 3,000 individuals horrifically lost their lives suddenly turn from a quiet, dignified place of mourning to a pseudo-memorial site to suddenly a tourist attraction the likes of Times Square?
Somebody pinch me. I must have been sleeping these past ten months because the tourists are coming out of the woodwork. It's hard enough to be an Iranian and a Moslem in Manhattan after September 11, but when I think of the people who died, people like my neighbor and friend, Tom Pedicini, an equities broker for Cantor Fitzgerald who worked on the 104th floor of the North Tower, and whose body has not been recovered, dashing about the last few minutes of his life, frantic, trying to find an escape from a collapsing building, I want to grab these tourists and shake them and scream WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!
Tom was a human being and deserving of our respect. He wanted to be a musician and many Saturday mornings, I awoke to his strumming guitar and mellifluous voice. The path to his grave is paved with blood… not T-shirts and ice creams cones and cheap photographs of buildings that once used to be.
A fitting tribute to his and the many others who died that day is a quiet and dignified respect, not pushing and shoving to take a picture of what is essentially a large, gaping hole.
If you happen to come to New York City, and I urge you to do so, and wish to visit Ground Zero, please remember those who died and honor their memories by giving and not taking: place flowers along the walls beneath their pictures or say a quiet blessing, whatever your beliefs, for the those who will never see their family members again.