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New York's other 9/11 memorial offers a glimpse through survivors' eyes

The Tribute WTC Visitors Center tells the story of 9/11 through tour guides that are all survivors. It offers a unique look at the World Trade Center for visitors and a sense of solace to 9/11 survivors.

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“My recollection was that there was no panic, no hysteria,” Ms. Speciner told the visitors. “Any people who were afraid were comforted by strangers.”

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A decade after 9/11, many people still struggle with the psychological aftermath of the attacks. Some have turned to the Tribute Center as a sort of survivors’ clubhouse, says Adams.

“People who live through that sort of trauma have a real kinship to each other,” she says, adding that, “there was no handbook for how to handle this.”

Meanwhile, for many people with only secondhand knowledge of the attacks, memories of that day grow dimmer with each passing Sept. 11. Many young people have no 9/11 memories at all.

“I really didn’t know anything,” said Arianna Farmer, a high school senior from Sacramento, Calif., who recently visited the Tribute Center.

The center, she said, made the events of 9/11 “seem more real.”

'Life was never the same'

If the Tribute Center’s first priority is to educate about 9/11, a close second is to foster reflection on the attacks and their aftermath.

The center’s final gallery offers blank reflection cards that invite visitors to consider the impact of 9/11, as well as the positive actions they can take “in the spirit of Tribute.” So far, visitors have filled in over 230,000 cards in 80 languages – hundreds of which have been collected in a new book, “9/11: The World Speaks.”

Throughout July, the center set up outdoor reflection stations in Lower Manhattan where passers-by could write or illustrate their thoughts on 9/11 in preparation for the 10-year anniversary of the attacks. The reflections – about safety, misunderstanding, loss, and renewal – amounted to handmade memorials.

Included on the 200 or so cards were: “More Security,” “Life was never the same again,” “We, Pakistanis, do feel for you,” “New York will prevail – it always does,” and “Just Why?!”

Faced with the enormity of 9/11, reflection for many people cannot be expressed, only felt.

“I’m surprised by how much emotion it stirred in me,” said Martha Schartner, a visitor from Pittsburgh, at the end of the ground zero tour led by Tomolonis and Speciner.

After the tour, Ms. Schartner and her family lingered awhile to chat with the guides. Then Schartner said to Speciner, “Thank you so much for sharing your story.”

“As hard as it is to remember,” Speciner replied, “it’s a pleasure when people care.”

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