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Ground Zero

© By Mike Keenan

  It's eerie and silent despite the fact that there is a crowd gathered on a long wooden ramp allowing a panoramic view of the empty expanse bordered by Barclay, Trinity, Liberty and West streets. On the NYC map clutched in my freezing hands, the area labeled in red ink, The World Trade Center, is now referred to as Ground Zero.
     An appropriate descriptor: there is nothing left of the mighty twin towers that were anchored side by side, reflecting the immense political and economic power of the strongest, wealthiest nation in the world.
     I think of Shelley's poem, Ozymandias, studied in high school, a startling treatment of man's excessive pride and impermanence, symbolized by a fallen, eroded statue inscribed: "My name is Ozymandias king of kings: Look on my works ye mighty and despair!" As in the poem, "Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away."
     Like a pilgrim, I felt compelled to visit the site. The 1-9 line takes me to Park Place, opposite City Hall and a short walk on Fulton St. where St. Paul's Church sits at the centre of the makeshift shrines, erected along the sidewalk, flags, pictures, letters, photos, candles, banners, all sorts of clothing such as T-shirts and caps, labeled with thoughts, prayers, wishes, hopes and dreams.
     There is no anger. There is wonderment, awe, a feeling that we are somehow inextricably thrown together, that we need each other, a quiet reverence perhaps a ritualistic witnessing as people slowly mill about, silently reflecting. I am amazed at some of the artifacts. There is a bottle of holy water, labeled in black magic marker "from Canada". The mementos draw me closer until I come upon a letter, written in pencil on lined paper, the kind that they use in elementary school to teach youngsters how to write. On the bottom of the page is a picture of a young boy's father, in shirt and tie, smiling, proudly wearing his white fireman's hat.
     The son's writing grips me by the heart: "Hi Dad, what can I say? The last time I saw you you had such a wonderful smile on your face and I don't need to say what you were thinking about. Thank God you were happy. Daddy, I know you see me crying every day and I can't help it it hurts so much. But as much as it hurts, I'm so proud of you. People that don't even know you are proud of you and watch over me and mommy and the boys. Now we have our own special angel in heaven. This is my father, David Wallace of Eng Co 205. My father and 342 other firefighters gave their lives for US. PS: Daddy, I can't wait to see you in my dreams."
     Behind me, I hear a witness describe the scene: "I saw them jumping. It was awful. I couldn't look anymore."
     Of course, like everyone in the world, I had viewed the tragedy on TV, witnessed the planes in slow motion, methodically hit each tower and engulf them in flame and smoke, incendiary fuel that would burn white-hot and gradually weaken and collapse the tough skeletal structure of each tower.
     But this I had to witness for myself. Walking slowly backwards along the wooden ramp that projected out from St. Paul's was an ancient cemetery with tombstones that had been weathered, cracked, names obliterated by wind and rain. In the bare tree branches that extended into the blue air above, I spotted remnants of paper debris that had blown there and become temporarily stuck. That and the makeshift shrine was all that was left at Ground Zero.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan: New York City's new skyline after 9/11, ad hoc shrines, Statue of Liberty, NYC's firemen & police, local heroes.

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