Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer
Life After Emilee Logo | Neal Klein honoring his wife after losing her to pancreatic cancer

A Walk To The Memorial…Finally

It is just shy of oppressively warm this July day, and the brief downpour earlier has cooled it just a bit, and there is that smell of evaporating water in the air, as it steams up from the warm ground and surrounds me.

It has been sixteen years since that day, and since we got married. I have not visited the site yet. I have not felt ready. Not that I am ready now, but I am changed inside after she died six months ago and here I am.

I love asking people for directions in Manhattan. I don’t know why, but I just love the impromptu connection with another human being, a total stranger, who is kind enough to share the information they have and help me get where I need to go. Always makes me feel warm , and, connected with the vast web that is around me.

Directions, I am doing well. Eight blocks more west and then turn south. And, then about six blocks going south and I will see it in front of me. Hard to miss it as one nice young man stated. I check with a couple more people as I go otherwise I get smaller inside this mass of moving people, and I don’t want to get lost that way.

I am out of shape, and I am realizing how my heart is talking to me inside my chest, saying this is more than I am used to doing. I am wearing her teardrop bag over my shoulder and it is getting heavier, and I am getting really warm.

My heart says, “You are walking a New York pace which is a little quick and you better keep me hydrated or else I am going to start playing some of those syncopated rhythms you like to listen to”.

I take out my water bottle and drink.

“I will keep you hydrated,” I say softly to myself but realize I said it quietly out loud, and chuckle out loud as well. Manhattan…, I am just another “out there” character and I am loving just being me. I AM a part of it. I was born in Brooklyn I say to myself with another quiet smile. My dad and my brother worked here. My Aunt worked here. My cousin worked in the U.N. building. I have tentacles here. People I know, and people my brother knew, were lost here.

As I get closer, I start thinking of the sheer numbers. The mass of people that I am going to pay my respects to, and I have tears streaming down my face. God, I didn’t even get there yet and I am a mess, but it is okay. Throngs around me and no one notices, I am just another body in the crowd with everyone walking their determined NEW YORK WALK and no one studying my face.

I have plenty of tissues with me. There is an instantaneous unimpeded channel from deep down, and out through my eyes for the flow and they less frequently get trapped in my gut or my throat since she died.

The wave passes through me, and I just tap the tissue supply in my pocket to make sure it is still there and let the tears fall and just wipe with my hand. Save the tissues for when my nose starts dripping.

I love walking. The breathing, inhale for two steps and exhale for two steps, the repetition, like a meditation and sometimes it keeps me from thinking too much. I notice I am walking uphill now, as if I were earning my way to get HERE.

I feel the blister on my left heel. I am approaching the new buildings. There is a long bench, and I sit down and dress my blister with ointment and a band-aid. Much better. I look at the new buildings, take in the architecture and the reflections of the surroundings and the sky in the surface of the building. It makes me pause at the top of my breath till my brain says…”breathe”.

I talk to someone sitting near me, he is from Oregon, and we briefly talk about assisted death. Light talk. And, then I approach the north tower site first.

I want silence, I want solemn in the crowd, I want respect for the dead, but I find a mixture. Children running around, behaving and misbehaving, some parents attentive and some taking an oblivion break.

I see some with tears, and to one middle aged woman I offer some tissues in a silent but deeply felt understanding gesture and she accepts without words other than a subtle shake of her head, and my eyes well up.

I decide I can have my solemnity within and can cast my own mood around myself no matter what any one else was doing. I suddenly want to touch every single panel of metal etched with names. Each name is carved and cut through the panels so that the lights underneath shine through, which is becoming more dramatic as the dusk closes in.

I bath my hand in the water running under the panels, and anoint each panel of names as I walk around, avoiding and honoring all the flowers and notes that had been placed in the etched names. Dip and touch, dip and touch, again and again, all around the north tower memorial, and all around the south tower memorial, each about an acre in its footprint. The water is cool and feels liquid and alive, and…holy…and…sacred.

I look at the deep hole in front of me, and the water cascading down the sides and then down the sloped flat section and then down again into the square hole, down, down, down, as if I am being pulled down from where I am standing, to the center of the hole, where so many had fallen and perished in the rubble, in the ruins, in a deep hole never to emerge.

But, their spirit did emerge. It is in the buildings around me, it is in the hearts of those who are here now and those who will come, it is in the names carved in metal so we remember and never forget. Ever.

It’s in the swamp white oaks (about 400 of them) gathered around this site, and the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) known as the survivor tree, which though badly damaged, was still alive after the attacks. I hug it, and tell it how I honor its will to life, its strength, dignity, courage and perseverance, and I thank it for teaching us about these things and for being patient with us to learn compassion and empathy.

I touch all the names not just for myself, but for all those not able to come here because they are too ill, too far away, too full of cancer, too old and infirm, too young to understand, and for those who have died and could not make it here, for Emilee, especially for Emilee, because we had a special shared experience that day. A day like no other. She is here with me.

When I am done and just standing there, I notice this young woman with the most unusually large and incredibly blue eyes I think I had ever seen, and being in the unfiltered mode I say, “Wow, I absolutely love your eyes”, and she thanks me and we start talking.

She tells me she is from Norway, is here with her sister and her mom, and truly enjoying their stay. We talk about feeling pulled into the sculpture, and share how we feel standing where we are, and share a moment that is somehow significant, and she wishes me well and leaves to find her family.

I suddenly feel an ache deep inside, among all these people. One moment I feel a thread connecting me to each and every one, and another I feel this terrible ache in my center-most core, pulled down with the water into an abyss of darkness. I finally need my tissues.

(nmitchk@aol.com)

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