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ride on, rise up

The World Trade Center PATH station reopened yesterday, bringing life back to a place known for death.

Rebuilding is a good thing. You can't live forever mired in the loss that a place represents; that would only add to your suffering and keep the place from ever being anything but a tomb. To see life rise from a place of sorrow, to see the world of living coming back, it's like watching the land of Oz go from black and white to full blown color.

To rebuild is to renew spirit, to infuse a beating pulse into what once was a sorrowful dirge. It is also a sign to the people who turned that place into a graveyard: You have not won. We will not go down in defeat. You cannot bury us.

Not everyone feels the same way. Of the 3,000 victims who lost their lives at the spot where the PATH train rides, a handful of families of those victims are outraged. They didn't want the PATH station built there. They wanted the name - simply World Trade Center Station - to include the word memorial.

I understand their grief, I understand their sorrow. But I cannot agree with the way they are hanging on to the World Trade Center site as the last artifact of their loved one's lives.

Have you seen those memorials on the side of the highway? The flowers and wreaths and balloons that mark where a person died in a car accident? Those tributes always unnerve me. Why adorn the spot where someone died? I would much rather walk around with flowers and balloons, placing them at various spots; this is where Johnny won his track race. This is where Johnny proposed to me. This is where Johnny received his diploma. Celebrate the legacy of their lives rather than submerging yourself in their last moments.

It is necessary to rebuild. It is necessary to move on. We cannot live in grief forever. Certainly, we must never forget. We must never forgive. What we must do is show them that we are survivors. We were not so completely destroyed by their vicious acts that we can't let the space where they tried to murder our country become whole again.

Jeff Jarvis was on the last train to ride into the station that day. He wrote this just four days ago:

I can't tell you how relieved and proud I felt today as I came up the Cortlandt Street subway stop and saw the walkway being completed to the PATH train. Up on the street, the new PATH station is ready to open on Sunday (having taken the last train to the World Trade Center, I was hoping very much to take the first train now but on Sunday, I can't). Here is the first breath of life coming back to this place of death. We got hit, but we didn't stay down for long. We rebuilt. We're rebuilding. It felt good.

The man who drove that last train out of the crumbling WTC was there yesterday, to watch the first train since that fateful day roll out again:

He's glad that they kept the name. World Trade Center. Others will no doubt disagree, but Richie Moran believes the greatest memorial at the PATH station opening today at the heart of ground zero and bearing a hauntingly familiar name will be the sight of trains rolling in and out again.

People keep talking about preserving the footprints of the building. Some even talk of building nothing there at all. We cannot preserve death. We must build life. What would our city, our country look like if we had to preserve every space on which someone died? The true memorial to the victims would be to rise up, to make that place full of life once more. It would not be trampling on the memories of the dead. No, it would be more like paying tribute to them, saying: We did not bury ourselves with you. We are showing your murderers that with your death did not come the death of our spirit to live on, to carry on all of your dreams and hopes, to see your children marry and your ideas carried on, to see our strength resolved and your death propel us to be stronger, braver, even wiser.

Indeed, the victims will be memorialized as they should be. Whether that be with a tribute, with light, with eternal flames or cascading water, there will be a place to gather, to reflect and to pay homage to those who did not survive that day.

I am not asking that people get over what happened on September 11, 2001. In fact, I don't think we should ever get over it or ever forget. I know I won't. But while we simmer with rage, while we wake up in the middle of the night crying, while we feel sorrow and grief and sometimes despair, we must focus some of that energy on rising up. On bringing life to where death severed us from our carefree days. Not even to show our enemies that we can go on living, but to show ourselves. If we leave the World Trade Center as a tomb, we become our own worst enemy.

I think of the opening of the PATH station as an offering to the dead, a gift of sorts. We are adding life and noise and smiles to the place where their souls lay. Perhaps that will make them happy. And perhaps it will make us happy, too. Life is for the living, after all.

Track 3, all aboard. Ride on.

[See Jeff Jarvis's piece about the train today]

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» A Small Victory: ride on, rise up from unbillable hours
A Small Victory: ride on, rise up Michele at A Small Victory has a good essay on memorials and allowing the dead to stop us from rebuilding at ground zero. Part of this story deals with the PATH, which I [Read More]

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Michele at Small Victory has some interesting thoughts on the re-opening yesterday of the World Trade Center PATH station: People [Read More]

Comments

"Have you seen those memorials on the side of the highway? The flowers and wreaths and balloons that mark where a person died in a car accident? Those tributes always unnerve me. Why adorn the spot where someone died?"

It's worth pointing out that Christianity is pretty much rooted in this idea. The symbol numero uno is the cross and not the stone rolled aside at the tomb. In Catholicism this is really the case where you just don't have the cross but the bloody, haggard, near death body of Jesus as well.

Whether or not one is religious (and I know you're not), it's difficult to just cast aside these symbology/mythology that are so much a part of our culture for most people.

I agree with you, Michele, about sending a message to terrorists who think that they can force us to change our way of life and actions. What we need to say to them is "Well, look at that - you destroyed some buildings, killed several thousand people - but it hasn't made us change our values or beliefs. The buildings will be rebuilt. We are still the same nation."

As a country, we need to take the same attitudes. To show the world that as a country, we still have individual freedoms as the core of our society. That we are not a society where religious zealotry determines public policy. That the rights, liberties and beliefs of all people are worth protecting. The fight for those beliefs lead to the founding of the United States almost 230 years ago, and is enshrined in the constitution of our country.

That is what we must not allow terrorists and extremists to destroy. Buildings can be rebuilt. Lives will go on. But once lost, the foundations of liberty and freedom cannot be easily regained.

I couldn't agree more, Michele.

I haven't been following the whole WTC memorial issue very closely, but in addition to building a memorial site, I favor the construction of twin skyscrapers even taller, grander, and more breathtaking than the original Towers, and in the same location. They would stand as reminders of our optimism and determination, as well as serving as two gigantic middle fingers thrust in the faces of our enemies.

"If we leave the World Trade Center as a tomb, we become our own worst enemy.

I think of the opening of the PATH station as an offering to the dead, a gift of sorts. We are adding life and noise and smiles to the place where their souls lay."

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trish: Well said. I agree.

I second exactly what Curt said.

Of all the proposed plans for a rebuilt WTC, my favorite still remains the one that isn't being seriously considered, that joke that clogged everyone's E-Mail inbox, the towers in the shape of a gigantic 'finger'. A gigantic 'bird', symbolising that we can never be defeated, only killed and the survivors will go on, saddened yes, but angered and determined.