On March 25 I received a distribution email from Joe Daniels, President and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. He announced the opening of the museum on May 21 but would be holding a Dedication Period from May 15 through May 20 that would include special previews of the Museum.
The Dedication Period was exclusive to victims’ families, first responders and survivors.
I scheduled the appointment for Friday, May 16 at 9:30 am, as I thought would be a time when there wouldn’t be much of a crowd. I told my best friend Jen, who is also a 9/11 survivor, and she made her appointment for the same date and time.
While I was excited that my donations of my photo and co-authored book were to be on display, it was nevertheless bittersweet. I would be brought back to a time of fear, horror and mourning; all of the emotions which kept me in a state of despair for a year.
My husband and I drove to New York from Florida, a trip we’ve taken many times over the years. On our way to make a stop in Virginia, a reporter for WPTV Channel 5 News in West Palm Beach left me a voicemail. It was Dan Corcoran, whom I had interviewed with a few years ago for the 9/11 10th anniversary special.
“…I wanted to see if you have any plans to go up north to the city to go to the new museum that is opening, and see if you’re available today for an interview.” I found him to be very respectful of my experience and did a fabulous job with last story, so I returned his call and agreed to do the piece. You can view it below.
The next morning my husband and I took the subway downtown to the stop still known as “The World Trade Center.” A chill ran down my spine as we rode closer to the place where my life was changed forever.
We arrived at the museum at 8:50 am and waited for Jen at the entrance. While we were waiting we walked through the 9/11 Memorial and a sense of peace filled my mind and body. A small, pink bouquet that was placed on one of the victim’s names reminded me that this wasn’t just a memorial; our feet were bestowed on sacred ground.
Tears ran down my cheeks as Jen approached me. We hadn’t seen each other in five years, and when we embraced I felt so blessed to see her once again.
At 9:25 am the three of us entered the museum. Our tickets were scanned and we walked through a corridor which led to a number of security checkpoints. I placed my purse in the gray, plastic container and watched intently as it rolled through the x-ray machine.
My husband, Jen and I began to walk slowly through the entrance of the museum and immediately noticed the dim lighting throughout. The calmness in the air gave me peace once again as we started our tour.
There were countless artifacts—steel beams which held the upper floors of the North Tower, the remains of the Ladder Company 3 fire truck, a red bandanna encased in glass with a touching story attached—all embedded so deeply in my subconscious.
After about a half hour of walking through the museum we came across a wall, filled with the faces of all who had perished that tragic day. My heart sank as we scanned each photo until I found Ryan Fitzgerald, our friend and colleague who died at the tender age of 26.
Jen and I walked over to the touch screen kiosks nearby and searched for more friends we lost. The names of the deceased included photos, dates of birth and death and a short profile. Some included an audio recording from a loved one who would describe the person in more personal detail.
We walked further and I suddenly heard a voice through a loudspeaker. As I drew closer I realized it had been a voicemail recording from gentleman who was trapped in one of the towers. I could hardly bear to listen to his words of desperation and despair.
At 11:45 am we decided to conclude our visit. I took a deep breath as we walked through the exit to behold the 9/11 Memorial once again. There was another bouquet placed on a name—white roses with a satin pink ribbon tied around it. I lowered my head and moved forward.
Through this experience I’ve come to realize that the past is not to be forgotten, but released and accepted in order for us to feel whole again. We can take with us in this lifetime the hope for new beginnings; a kinder, more compassionate way of life, and the chance to truly live in the present moment.
I thank the museum for allowing us to preview the exhibits this way. It is something I will never, ever forget.
About Michelle Cruz Rosado
Michelle Cruz Rosado is a professional speaker and bestselling co-author of "Pursuing Your Destiny: How to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Your Dreams." Follow Michelle for inspiring messages and quotes.