What touched my heart was the fresh, white rose placed on the victim’s name on his or her birthday.

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IT was September 2002 when I boarded a plane from Seattle to witness the devastation at New York’s Ground Zero. It was exactly one year after two hijacked airplanes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center, and two other passenger planes went down.

At that time, Ground Zero was a fenced-off construction zone of workers, in their tireless final search for remains and to clear the area for what was to become a lasting memorial to innocent people who died that dreadful day.

I didn’t know what to expect on a return visit this year, 16 years after the attack. The 15-acre landscape of Ground Zero changed so much I felt like I was in a pristine park filled with tourists peering into a giant pool.

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There are two, 1-acre pools at Ground Zero, built in the footprints of the north and south towers. Waterfalls cascade down the four sides of each pool, onto a floor surface, and then resume their fall into an abyss. The names of all victims of 9/11 are engraved on the flat surface topping the walls surrounding the pools, with each name grouped according to where they were that fateful day.

What touched my heart was the fresh, white rose placed on the victim’s name on his or her birthday. An occasional small American flag could also be seen by a victim’s name. I now witnessed the monumental efforts which went into getting this sacred memorial right.

Ground Zero was no longer a construction site, but a majestic environment for reflection and contemplation. How does anyone comprehend the enormity of Sept.  11? It hits people in their own time and at their own speed, as every complicated grieving process does.

I looked up to see a modern building, the Freedom Tower, reaching toward the heavens with its 104 floors and eight triangular glass panels reflecting the weather of the day. This day, white clouds and blue sky passed by each panel, giving a sense of the building being one with the sky. The Freedom Tower appeared as a heavenly ladder for the dear souls to ascend.

My family and I took the fast-paced elevator from the bedrock foundation of the Freedom Tower to the top to see encompassing views of New York City and all its boroughs. The concrete jungle lay below with vast lush Central Park to the north. From such a high perch, New Jersey, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and all the bridges were easily seen this clear day. But the sights brought overwhelming nerve-wracking feelings of what it was like to be at work on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center when the planes hit, with no way out. I kept my eye on air traffic in the vicinity and was relieved to descend in the elevator, back to safety.

We didn’t visit the underground 9/11 Museum that day. We didn’t want to relive it in such detail and to such a raw, emotional extent.

Walking across the street, we approached a fire station where firefighters lost their lives that day, trying to save others. An embossed, carved copper wall of fire engines and firefighters surrounds the outside of the station as a memorial tribute. Four firefighters gathered on an overhang above us, smiling, talking and enjoying the sunny day … a day reminiscent of Sept. 11, 2001.

I looked up and said, “Thank you!”