Walking in Death and Learning to Live
Vicky Kavanagh from the WIP Class of 2011 reflects on her experience at Ground Zero in July 2011.
Last week, I travelled to New York with Richard to film some of RTE’s news coverage for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It was one of the most incredible and humbling experiences of my life.
During our 4 days in New York, I met a variety of people who were affected by this devastating tragedy. Out of many memorable moments during my trip, one that stands out for me was our tour and filming of the memorial currently under construction at Ground Zero.
At 10am on the Friday morning, Richard, Harvey and I arrived at the PATH entrance, clad in jeans and t-shirts in 106 degree heat. It was going to be a long, sweaty day. We were greeted by Bill Beroni, Head of PATH and his assistant, Gretchen DiMarco – both of whom are wonderful people. After the greetings, we passed through a door at the side of the entrance; and were transformed to another world.
Construction chaos was what greeted us when we took our first steps onto the site. Tonnes of concrete (all of which is provided by an Irish company), steel beams, enormous bundles of raw wood and the largest crew of workers I’ve ever seen in once place in my life. We were quickly kitted out in hard-hats, yellow mesh vests and construction boots (for me; such boots were not on my list of things I brought to DC) before we were taken up the new tower that’s currently being built. When Tower One, which stands on the site of one of the original towers, is finished, it will be 104 floors tall. The day we toured, the 67th floor was being completed and already the building was intimidating with it’s height; I can’t even imagine it’s effect with another 40 odd stories on top.
As we travelled up in the elevator, New York City zipped by. We had to transfer to another lift before we reached our destination of floor 66. For those who have been up the Empire State Building, the view I witnessed surpassed it by a landslide; the whole of New York and beyond to the sea was visible to my incredulous eyes. While Richard, Harvey and Bill took the 8 flights of stairs up to the 67th floor still under construction, my bravery had reached it’s limit and Gretchen and I waited as the others filmed from a floor above. I was pleased with my decision when Richard re-emerged with photographs and excited explanations of how all that stood between them and the sky was some mesh.
The entire memorial is steeped in symbolism. On the site where the second tower stood, a water fountain now takes it’s place and the theme of absence is reflected in the architecture of it; 30 feet of water falls down into a smaller square in the centre where it then falls a further 10 feet before it is recycled back up to where it starts. The connection to the strike and collapse of the tower which previously stood there is pretty clear. Around the fountain on the surrounding stone are the names of the victims, which will be unveiled to family and friends on the 10th anniversary.
It is not just the physical structures which reflect the memories of that horrific day in 2001. Speaking to several of the construction workers, I discovered that most of them were part of the relief effort in the years post-9/11; most of the had lost somebody in the attack;none of them will ever forget the day “America was attacked at home”. I couldn’t help but ask, as I stood in the new tower – which will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere – why build another building, open to attack? Are they not afraid that there will be another tragedy?
Gretchen replied that while it’s not a fear, it is an awareness; an awareness that everything has been done to try and address. From the concrete core to the reinforced beams, if this tower is attacked at street level where it is most vulnerable, the only thing that will collapse is the glass windows. Essentially, a fortress has been built.
This is the definition of New York resistance and defiance. Meeting the people over those few days, again and again I encountered a strength and bravery I have never witnessed on such a shared scale before. Every single day that another piece of work on the memorial is completed signals continuous fight and spirit. While I walked on the sight and thought of death, others walked and thought of the future for those alive. The people who were exposed to terror, devastation, loss and pain, solider on.
The memorial will never be able to replace what was before – New Yorkers aren’t trying to. The people will never forget – not that they want to. The city will never be the same – but it will not be defeated. 10 years on, New York and it’s habitants have come to terms with past events; combined with a steely determination not to allow that day define their future.
I will never forget this opportunity and the new tower has no choice but to remember me. Along previous signor’s President Obama, Tom Hanks and numerous Senators, I was given the honour of signing one of the steel beams of the new tower. On the 66th floor, in white marker on a russet coloured steel bar, reads “Vicky Kavanagh, RTE, July 22nd ’11″. May we all look to the future, while honouring the past.