I had a chance to visit the 9/11 memorial museum in New York this past weekend. And if any of you are in the New York area, I really do urge you to do the same.
Not so much for the artifacts, of which there are many.
The pummeled fire trucks.
The wreckage of a plane that crashed into a tower.
A woman's pair of dust-covered shoes.
A crushed Port Authority worker's helmet.
Bicycles still chained to a rack outside the WTC.
Dozens, maybe hundreds of discarded phones, beepers, badges, wallets--some looking good as new.
Then there are the pictures. The thousands of pictures of victims who never made it out; their individual stories called up on computer like a family photo album today, a digitized diary without the central character to see it. Any of it. All of it.
But for me, all pale comparisons to what really stopped me.
Not what I saw. What I heard.
Voicemails. So many voicemails. Voicemails at first calm, then not so calm. Then not at all calm. Then very worried. And very frantic.
Then they changed yet again back to something between calm and maybe just eerie.
Messages that went from frantic to philosophical in what seemed a matter of minutes, maybe more. I don't know.
Messages from men and women who seemed increasingly resigned to the fate that is tragically playing out in the background.
One man, who left five, maybe six messages to his wife each one getting more desperate, until the final one, that seemed almost stoic.
"I love you, honey," is all I heard. Before it just stopped.
Before it and he were just gone.
I always wondered what that woman thought when she played those messages back.
All the wives and husbands, moms and dads, kids and friends, who heard for themselves what would be their loved ones final moments, their final messages.
All neatly digitized markers in time. Stuck in the moment. Before the moment was gone. And the folks leaving them were gone too.
There's something about hearing words from individuals we don't know to loved ones we cannot see, re-living a nightmare we cannot understand in a museum whose grip we now cannot ignore.
Maybe it's because they were so mundane, so routine that they stopped me in my tracks and my boys in their tracks. Then I hear the tracks. The beeps. The message. Then the next message.
No photos. No videos. No wreckage. Just words. From people I cannot see. But whose frantic calls I can only hear.
Until I couldn't.
Until they couldn't.
Until they were gone.
In an act of hate they couldn't fathom, perpetrated by forces they still couldn't see.
And it's sort of like eavesdropping in.
Just like them, still trying to sort it out.
In a world that has since gone by.
But in this place.
In this museum, just stops.
As it should.
We hear them, as we should.
Loud and clear.