I took the early train this morning all the way down to the end of Manhattan; I had to see Ground Zero. Only on five hours of sleep, and running constantly, adapting to the New York City life, my gi was washed from last nights session, but obviously failed to hang dry in that five hours. Everything is on the go here, it’s not like you can just run home, or run to your car real quick, so when you head into town you have to condense, only take your essentials, what you need for the day. For me, as an urban hiker, it’s basically my phone, wallet, and gi.
I got to the line to obtain my ticket. It is very, very high security all over down there still, and very hard to get in. As I waited, I glanced up and stared at the new building being constructed, Freedom Tower, and the magnificent morning sun beamed off the glass. I took in my surroundings, watched the construction elevators slowly move up and down the skyscraper high above the streets, listened to the busyness, the bustling, horns, and then I look at the local food joint in front of me, and all the construction workers catching their pre-work coffee and nourishment. I looked at their hard hats, worn and scared from years of work, decked out with all kinds of stickers, showing each one’s individualism. All of them however, had a reoccurring symbol exposed proudly…the American flag.
I took it in, looked up at Freedom Tower again, then glanced down, at the cold, wet gi in my hand…unknowingly until then, the “USA” and Flag that had been sewn onto it by my mom was staring right back at me. The connection was made, the significance of it all. I suddenly thought of where I was, thought about where I was a month ago, fighting for the USA in Serbia in the month of the 9/11 10yr anniversary. I thought of how I had always wanted to visit New York, how I had worked my ass off my entire life and especially the past 5-6 years to make this trip happen, thought about my Grandpa who served 22.5yrs in the Navy, thought about The Towers, all the people of that day, all the people surrounding me now, the construction workers, our military, our nation…I felt an irrepressible serge of emotion, and it nearly overwhelmed me.
Amongst all the commotion, going non-stop for the past three days, this one instant froze in time. It was one of those moments. As I was taking it all in two of the Freedom Tower workers asked me about my gi, we struck up a conversation about Serbia, USA, NY (where they were from), the Towers, and I told them how much I looked up to Americans like them, two regular hard-working dudes about to smash their day. American military, police, firefighters and honest workers all have my greatest respect. It was great to meet and talk to them, if only for a moment, an incredible memory that made both our days. From there I painstakingly went on through all the construction and madness, but rewardingly I reached Ground Zero. A truly breathtaking site, a garden amidst everything, with the North and South fountains recessed into the earth in the exact locations of the fallen North and South Towers, and every person’s name who had lost their life that day etched in the surrounding stone.
I remembered, as everyone always will, where I was that day…and I will always remember where I was almost ten years exactly after, as one of the first to see the Memorial Fountains, and be fortunate to share a moment with those American workers. In my entire life, I had never felt so much pride in my country than at this moment. I am a Real American. "Thank-you."