Thursday, May 15, 2014

Purposeful emotional destruction

The 9/11 museum opens in the next few weeks. It is not in concert with the one that is there currently. This new one is separate and distinct. VIPs go in today for a dedication. This weekend families get a sneak preview. I was on the invite list with my family. I declined.

Over the years I've seen memorials that have been built all over the local area. Most are quiet places of remembrance that remain somber and beautiful. I can respect that. I can handle that. Remembering what it means is good. Remembering those lost is good. Having some central location to go and quietly reflect is good. They all convey some message through the art and eye of the designer.

When the impending opening of this museum and the family invitation to see it early and my lack of presence in the downtown location over most of the years since it happened, I knew I needed the closest thing to a trial run as I could manage.

So, last month Linda and I went into the city one weekday morning. We roamed around downtown and passed my old stomping grounds. I felt a lot like someone who visits the neighborhood they grew up in after they've long since become an adult. We came right up on the WTC plaza, almost without realizing it. The southernmost corner is a block further south than it used to be. There's nothing remotely WTC about it (when your yardstick i s pre-9/11). It looks like any other construction site in the city. Even the building itself is nothing to write home about. It's enormous, but doesn't have anything unique about it. I mean, there isn't another like it exactly, but it's a blue glass building in NY. The old towers were totally unique.

We took a walk up to Liberty Park where I used to sit and eat lunch with my statue friend long before the Zucotti Brothers allowed Occupy Wall Street loonies camp and shit in it. I saw my statue friend (the one I found in Jersey City was a replica by the artist) and instantly got a little sad. He was unchanged and looked really out of place. Someone had used him as a perch for their business cards, which I cleansed him of.

Overall, I was ok, but I felt a lot of it was because our walk around outside just wasn't a good litmus test. So, we chose to go into the existing museum to do a full stress test - because I must be analytical about EVERYTHING in life. We paid an exorbitant amount of money to get in. The front room is full of facts, which were interesting. Then you get into the minute-by-minute, play-by-play of the morning. It is replete with authentic pieces of destruction - a window from a plane, a boarding pass, personal effects, a teddy bear, etc. If you turn away from the right wall of horror you are confronted with floor to ceiling tapestry like printings with snippets of people's stories. Your only escape is a wider opening at the end, which is the home of a large glass enclosure that holds the tattered firefighter gear that marked the end of my visit. It was in the corner near that remnant that I fell to pieces in a way I haven't in many years. But the museum was designed to do that.

After I quickly found Linda and scrambled for an exit and regained my composure, I came to the realization that this test run did not help to inure me to the emotional onslaught I'd be in for at the new museum. I wasn't equipped to do this again. So that's when I decided to decline the invite and tell my folks I wouldn't be joining them.

If you've known me pre and post 9/11, you know that it has had a profound impact on my life, but I'm not prone to breakdowns. I had my moments for that early on, but I've come to terms with all of it. Anniversaries get dicey, but less so each year. My reaction in the city that day was caused by an outside factor; the museum. That was the X-factor. I, with purpose, walked headlong into a brutal assault on my emotions. I gave someone money to apply pressure to my weak spot.

With the opening of them museum getting ever closer, the local media has picked up on it. We've been seeing images of the inside flashing by and it looks horrific. There is a pair of women's pumps on display, still bloody. There is a fire truck that is half destroyed. This is not a somber place of reflection. This is to evoke a reaction of sadness. This is meant to hurt. For people with no connections, and some of whom weren't even born when it happened, this is to make people understand what it felt like. For people like me, it is just a time machine to the worst day of my life. It takes me back to the place that was trying to kill me and brings to the surface the feelings of fear.

When I thought I was overreacting and being too hyper vigilant about those feelings is when a female spokesperson came on TV and said, "If you don't leave here sad, then we have not done our jobs." 9/11 was about purposeful destruction; not of our buildings, but of our will. This museum is about purposeful destruction of our emotions. Maybe the end game is to create a depth of understanding. I've just never been a fan of negative reinforcement, and this is not the way to get me to be.

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