Blending past and present: The aftermath of 9/11
The collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, plunged the nation into a period of devastation and confusion. As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approached this year, I found myself wanting to know more about the aftermath of that day: How were Americans able to to sort through all of the rubble and debris and move forward in the midst of their grief?
I carried these questions with me when I traveled to New York City on the week of 9/11 with a group of 16 communication students and faculty from Harding University. Each student on the trip collected visuals and information for an individual project about 9/11. For my project, I planned to write an article about the rebuilding of downtown New York City after 9/11.
One thing that served as a central metaphor during our trip was the Survivor Tree, which stands in the plaza at the 9/11 Memorial. This plant lost several limbs from the fires and destruction on the day of 9/11 but was still clinging to life when people discovered it at the World Trade Center site. Today, the original, rough bark of the tree’s branches are fused with smooth, newer limbs that have grown over the past 20 years.
Throughout the trip, my group discussed other ways we could observe the Survivor Tree’s theme of old blending with the new. We found one example in the landscape of downtown New York City. Newer buildings such as the Oculus, an eye-catching, modern shopping center, are juxtaposed with buildings such as the historic St. Paul’s chapel, which did not lose a single pane of glass on 9/11.
The old-meets-new theme was even reflected in the group I traveled with to New York: five professors who held vivid memories of where they were on 9/11, contrasted with 11 students who had no memory of the events. Two of my fellow students had not even born yet when 9/11 happened.
One of the most powerful experiences of the trip was viewing the Tribute in Light, a breathtaking art installation consisting of two blue beams of light that shot into the night sky on the anniversary of 9/11. My friend described the twin beams as ghosts of the two towers that once dominated the New York City skyline. The soaring display showed that although the city had evolved after the destruction of that day, the events of 9/11 would forever be entrenched in the history of New York, and America as a whole.
After spending four days exploring New York City, I learned that efforts to rebuild after 9/11 are not only reflected in shiny new buildings, but also in the resiliency of people who continue to teach new generations of Americans about the impact of that day.