September 11, 2009

September 11th

View From My Apartment Window 

It's impossible today not to focus on memories, and my mind keeps circling back to an event that we held at the Museum in early 2002 for the community to offer thoughts on healing after 9/11.  Here are the remarks that I delivered at that emotional event:

Remembering and rebuilding represent the essential themes of this Museum. Carefully carved into the granite in our lobby are two quotes form the Bible: “Remember, Never Forget,” and “There is hope for the future.”

We take these messages seriously and reflect them in our programs, in our exhibitions, and in our actions.

Shortly after 9/11, I met with Museum chairman Robert Morgenthau. He gave me very clear instructions: (1) reopen the Museum as soon as possible, and (2) continue with the planning for the construction of the East Wing.

On October 5, we held a ceremony in this room, attended by Governor Pataki, Senator Clinton, and NYC officials, and reopened this Museum. In late November, we began construction on the East Wing. We were able to achieve these important objectives only through heroic and Herculean efforts on the part of Museum staff.

I want to say something about the staff.

Although the Museum had not yet opened to the public when the WTC was attacked on the morning of 9/11, the staff was here in the Museum building and in our executive offices across Battery Park. They were among the first to see the second plane as it flew overhead and hit the second tower. They were intimate eye-witnesses to these events, and each has there own story of how they got from work to home that night or in the days following.

Each has had their own reaction to the tragedy. Each of them came back to work and focused their considerable energy on reopening the Museum and providing programs again for the public. And each has dealt every day in different ways with the aftermath of that morning. I am immensely proud of my colleagues and grateful to them.

As many of you may know, I was in Germany on 9/11 and was spared the trauma of the witness. I experienced a kind of exile in Berlin, connected to my colleagues and my family by CNN and

Last night, in thinking about what I would say this evening, I reviewed some of my email communications from 9/11. I came across an email that my then 13 year-old son, Gabriel, sent me. (I recall my wife describing my son in this effort as a cross between Homer Simpson and Benjamin Franklin.) My family lives in University Park, Maryland, where I join them each weekend. A family from our neighborhood was on the plane that hit the Pentagon, and Gabe had gone to elementary school with one of the two little girls, Zoe, who was killed.

Late in the evening of 9/11, he wrote this email to all of his friends and family. I received it in my cramped hotel room in Berlin. I quote from it here because it seems appropriate for this evening.

Gabe wrote: ”I understand that people handle their anger and sorrow in many different ways, and I respect it… This is a time when we want to retreat to our childhood, just to be a small child with no idea what's happening and just to sit there and be told by our parents that everything's going to be ok. With that in mind, I feel that we should all be there for each other. I have two shoulders here, and if you need them to cry on, I'm here for you.”

This event is our attempt as an institution to address the issues raised by our collective and individual responses to 9/11, and to serve our community, to be there for you.

We are very gratified that so many of you came this evening. I see among you colleagues and neighbors. This evening is for you, but unlike any other program that we have ever done, it is also for us.


Abby said...

I remember that evening of healing, and I remember you reading the excerpt of Gabe's e-mail. For those of us who recall the emotions of that period as if it were yesterday, the true measure of time is that 13-year-old Gabe is now a senior at Brandeis. Thank you for reminding us how far we've come together.

AvivaMicah said...

As a Museum alum who was there that morning, I always remember your return from Berlin, and our staff breakfast the morning we all returned to the Museum, as the first time I really knew and believed we would somehow move forward. It is astonishing to see how far the Museum has come, and how many people it has touched, in a relatively short time. Thank you, as always, for your insight and your leadership.