After living in New York City for almost 7 years, I feel like I am very familiar with most neighborhoods and certainly the many iconic buildings throughout Manhattan...or so I thought.
I recently visited the city with my girlfriend, Elizabeth, and her 14-year-old son, Cullen. Elizabeth and I have been there before, but this was Cullen's maiden voyage to the Big Apple. We have done a number of NYC fundraising events over the past few years; which has always led to a few chaotic days of friends, long lunches, late nights and lots of last minute challenges. Even though this trip was for our Kentucky Derby Classic, we promised ourselves and Cullen this trip would be different. We would finally act like those slow-moving, eye-gazing, intersection-blocking tourists I used to speed past on my way to work.
We were on a mission. Thankfully, Cullen is the world's coolest 14 year old and is super tech savvy as well as quite the history buff. Between his energy, a healthy dose of caffeine, and the best app ever (WheelsOnWheels) we were on our way to the 9/11 Memorial.
Being fortunate enough to visit the city a few times a year, I have noticed its amazing ability to constantly transform and evolve. For instance, in 2010 when I left NYC, the site of the World Trade Center was known as Ground Zero and now it's an incredible, breathe-taking memorial.
We had bright blue skies and nowhere else to be. Elizabeth and I are not what I would call avid sightseers so we simply let Cullen lead the way. There is still a tremendous amount of construction surrounding the site. I think that is what made the first sight of the memorial that much more impactful. There are two massive square pools that must go 50 feet below street level with waterfalls cascading the inner walls. As we walked (and rolled) around each of the pools, the names of those who lost their lives were engraved alphabetically and by the floor they worked. I thought this was such a simple yet thoughtful way to give each person an origin rather than a resting place.
After the pools, we made our way to the 9/11 Memorial Museum; which is also located directly in the footprint of the towers that once stood above Manhattan's skyline. We pulled the "ALS Card" to bypass the long line outside and made our way into the best museum I've ever seen.
As is to be expected, the air and mood throughout the entire space was heavy. The lighting was dim and, because the museum is underground, the usual noise of NYC cannot be heard. This lack of sensory stimulus really allows visitors to be 100% present. The artifacts, photographs and videos are all on display, giving visitors an intimate look into the horrible morning. One of the most emotional exhibits had the actual voicemails passengers aboard the hijacked planes left their loved ones.
Leaving the museum, coming back up to street level and having the sun immediately warm our faces was almost overwhelming. I was, and still am, so impressed that the architects and minds behind this museum were able to create such a beautiful, insightful, and honest place of remembrance within the actual site of such a tragedy. I am so thankful Cullen turned me into one of those slow-moving, eye-gazing, intersection-blocking tourists. It truly was one of my favorite New York days.