Empower Wisconsin | Sept. 11, 2019
By Vicki McKenna
MADISON — I’m sharing a story in print that I have a difficult time telling, because every time I trying speaking the words, I break down and can’t finish.
On the 5th anniversary of 9/11, I had the privilege of being able to broadcast from Ground Zero. While in New York City I met up with a regular contributor to my show, a former Immigration and Naturalization agent, retired NYPD officer and native New Yorker named Mike Cutler. (Mike knew the city like the back of his hand — and his tour of the “underbelly” of the Big Apple was fascinating. But that’s another story!)
Mike introduced me to a friend of his, also a retired NYPD officer who lost his son-in-law in the South Tower collapse. Eighteen years later, I have forgotten this man’s name. I hate myself for that. We all strolled around the near-Ground Zero area for a time following my broadcast, when this man offered to show me a special room restricted to family members of the terrorist attacks. He led us to a nondescript office building and took us to a nondescript elevator. We arrived at a nondescript door.
Inside was a room about the size of a two-car garage. On every inch of the wall, on every surface available, were pictures and notes and messages and cards and personal items left by family members of those murdered by the 9/11 terrorists. There were so many messages, I could not tell the color of the walls. Sticky notes, cross-stitch pictures, hand-colored cards, elaborate scrapbook pages, scribbled letters on torn-out spiral notebook paper, wedding albums, yearbooks … even a guitar.
I started to read these messages. I remember a letter left with the guitar. It was written by a man whose best friend died that day. He wrote about how much fun they had together and how much he missed his friend.
I leafed through a wedding album with sticky notes on some pictures inside, detailing the love and loss that a woman felt at having her husband taken from her.
The most vivid memory I have is of a letter written in colored marker on yellow-colored construction paper. It was a letter from a little girl to her mom. The little girl detailed in her neat block print all the things she had done since her mother was murdered. She talked about her mom missing a dance performance at school and how proud she would have been. She wrote about getting better at soccer. She wrote about her dog. She wrote about missing her mom on her birthday. She wrote about missing her mom. The little girl was there, at the site of that horrible, senseless violence — five years later. Her mom was with God now, she wrote.
What I saw was so intimate. And overwhelming. And painfully beautiful.
The little time I spent with those special memories made it personal to me, if only by proxy. It changed my heart. I decided it was time to go looking for God again.
Today, watching the disunity in our nation now makes me profoundly sad. The sheer hate some of us have for each other is something I would have never predicted 18 years ago. I would like to say we’re better than this. We certainly were on 9/11. The families of the dead — the ones who left pieces of their hearts in that little room — deserve us to be that way again.
It’s why we say “Never Forget”. But for many Americans, it’s only a bumper sticker now.
But I will always remember that room, and the message from that little girl. And I pray.