On a side street that runs alongside the World Trade Center, two bronze bas-relief murals depicting rescue scenes from 9/11 are affixed to a wall facing the construction site. One reads, “Dedicated to Those Who Fell and Those Who Carry On.” The other admonishes us to “Never Forget.”
When I had a chance to write my own name of the 90th floor of the new tower going up on the site of the two that were destroyed, I wrote “Remember,” underneath my name. But aside from keeping the sacrifice and bravery of those who died on 9/11 in our thoughts, what was the content of the memory that I was supposed to protect? What are those memories supposed to tell me about how to live now, how to act personally and politically in this world?
To some extent, the struggle over what would replace Ground Zero has been an argument about memory and its uses.
The construction elevator of One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan is attached to the outside of the 104-story tower. From the ground it looks like a giant zipper, moving slowly up and down as the car, filled with workers and their tools, makes the six-minute, 1,776-foot journey from ground level to the top. (The building’s height was purposefully designed to match our year of independence.)
Riding up in that elevator to the 103rd floor recently, I kept myself a safe distance from the steel gates that protect you but also, unfortunately, allow you to see how high up you are hanging in space. I had to “man up” just to step into the metal box.
Phil English, a shop steward at the tower for LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America), one of several unions that have members working to complete the tower, rode up with me. (See LIUNA World Trade Center videos here.) He laughed when he said he wanted to ride on the window-washing contraption attached to the outside of the top floor.