Traveling helps me to get to know another piece of earth, with its beauty and its challenges. Earlier this year in April I visited New York for the first time. I was looking forward to a short holiday and to reconnect with a friend who lives there. Looking back, there were so many highlights that each day was a little lifetime in itself.
I traveled there during Holy Week, so while this big city was impressing me at almost every step, there was another layer that accompanied me over the five days.
I live in Dublin, Ireland, which is small compared to New York. The population of New York City is a little less than Ireland and my native Croatia combined. I’m talking about two countries that would fit into one city. Everything seemed BIG. My hotel room was on the 12th floor, with a view that stretched itself as the sun set over the horizon of tall buildings. I felt so little in New York, but not insignificant. I wanted to learn, I wanted to explore, I wanted to know more about the history of America, I wanted to see the sights, learn about its buildings, its art, its people. The city evoked a thirst I did not even know I had. This city is alive and it increased my own thirst for life and knowledge.
The first evening I went to Broadway. Being tired from a transatlantic flight did not stop me from enjoying the show, “The Great Comet of 1812,” starring my favorite singer, Josh Groban. There were parts in the show when my heart almost exploded wide opened with the powerful singing, and a story that touches one’s depths. Earlier that day my mum told me she baked lots of cakes for Easter, teasing me in a way because I wouldn’t be home with them. “Well, I’ll be in Broadway tonight. I think I’ll be alright.” My friend Christine organized this evening, and while we already have some wonderful shared memories of listening to Josh Groban live, it never gets old to create new ones.
However, that was not the only time that New York knocked my heart wide open. I was hoping to visit the September 11th memorial on Good Friday, thinking it would correspond well by bringing the pain of that memory to Jesus as we remember His death. But that day turned out differently, so I had to postpone it until Holy Saturday instead. It was just me that morning trying to find my way from the hotel into the city. It was supposed to be easy, taking a train from my stop all the way to the World Trace Centre. Yet, as it turned out, that train wasn’t running that day, so I had a full-blown New York experience of trying to navigate my way on the Subway. Soon I learned that this was a city below a city. People were helpful and kind. Half of the time they gave me correct directions, while the other half they were well-meaning and friendly but unfortunately their instructions were wrong. After some time I started longing for some daylight and I felt a great sense of achievement when I finally arrived at the World Trade Centre.
Leaving the station, I followed the signs to the 9/11 memorial. Just before the memorial I saw a street sign indicating ‘One way,’ and thought to myself, terrorism is really a one way street. No good comes out of it. I did not know what to expect. I felt reverence coming to where the Towers were, walking slowly. A lot of people were there and yet it wasn’t noisy but rather solemn, perhaps even calm. And then, sadness overtook me. I simply wanted to cry. There were no words in my head that triggered this reaction. The memorial is dignified and it actually evokes healing. The foundation of the first Tower that I approached goes into the depths, and water gently washes it, like a fountain running deeper into it. Names written on the walls of the foundation gave victims dignity, each name remembered. Occasionally there was a white rose next to a name, and I did not know if seeing that made it more sad or beautiful or if their loved ones put it there. All I wanted to do was cry. But I did not. Not sure why, but I held the tears in, letting them gather like the water that is being gathered in the depth of the foundation of each Tower.
I carried those tears with me the whole day. That evening, full of impressions and tired after walking a lot, I went to Mass. I was meeting a friend at her church far from where I was that afternoon, so I was a few minutes late. The church was in the dark, because at the Easter Vigil on Saturday the light comes in gradually while the readings are being read, signifying the light of Christ’s resurrection coming into the darkness of this world. I found a seat at the back of the church, sat there and finally I wept. I wept at the loss of life, the wound that this city experienced during the terrorist attack. I wept at what we people sometimes do to each other. I wept because Holy Saturday was a day when shattered hopes were mixed with Jesus’ redeeming work; while the Resurrection was happening, the disciples were in grief. I wept because the Alleluia that we would sing that night comes out of such deep sadness, as the one that New York experienced. Alleluia does not come out of joy, but out of pain as it is being redeemed by the Lord. I wept because all of this, both out of gratitude to the Lord for new life, as well as the pain. I wept for this city, for its needs, for America and all that needs to be put right. As I wept I offered silent prayers, beyond words, to the Lord, and I thanked Him for the light that conquers death, for hope that rises out of despair, for love that is stronger than hate.
Today as we remember 9/11, I am not in New York, but my memory of that city, of its vastness, its beauty, its story that touched me, stays with me in such a way as if I have met a person whose scars are part of their wisdom. There are more memories from my trip to be told, but New York certainly knows how to touch someone’s heart.
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