As a 15 year old in California, with no ties to New York, it felt more like a movie than reality at the time, and I was unable to understand the gravity of the issue. The older I've gotten, the more the tragedy has sunk in, and the more I can imagine how horrifying it must have been for all of New York and especially the people who were on the planes or in the towers (or the Pentagon).
I first visited Ground Zero in January 2008, when it was still a gaping hole in the ground, surrounded by construction fencing.
The scene was a little disturbing. It definitely felt like there was something missing, and that the big hole in the ground was not supposed to be there like that. When we went across the street to St. Paul's church there were still very touching memorials and mementos out that made it seem like it had happened just yesterday. The memorials and mementos are still up, but in a more permanent museum-like display that makes it all seem so long ago.
The first thing I noticed this trip as we walked toward the memorial was the energy. On those streets where people would have been staring up in disbelief or running for their lives, I felt the panic and the sadness in the air.
I assumed the actual memorial would feel the same way, because the area outside of it was so crowded and very commercial. There were barriers up, a ticket line, police everywhere, and an airport-style security check. It didn't seem like a memorial at all. More like a circus.
When we got inside, it wasn't crowded. There was plenty of room for everybody. It wasn't sad or chaotic. People were being respectful, and although the mood was somber, it felt peaceful. I felt like all the people who perished there had moved on and are at peace.
It also seemed oddly quiet there. I think the rush of water pouring through the memorial masked the city sounds very well.
The actual pools are mesmerizing and beautiful and full of symbolism.
And the freedom tower is shorter than I thought it would be, but beautiful too.