If you stand on the street in front of the Baltimore World Trade Center, the first thing you notice won’t be its height. It’ll be the slab of marble with two rusted pieces of metal sticking out of it.
They look like hands, presenting the contorted and twisted wrapping of steel framing atop them. As if, for the amount of time you keep staring, you will see only that—not the Inner Harbor behind the building or the building itself. Not the sea of teens and twenty-somethings in comic book regalia threading in front and around you, but that charred and melted and rusted metal framing that once kept somebody safe.
It is as if the metal tines holding it up are offering it to you, like, “Here, hold this weight with me. Here, have a piece of America’s history.”
It is a chunk of metal framing from one of the World Trade Center towers. I do not know how long it hung in place before collapsing, finally, under the weight of itself. I do not know which tower, which floor, which cubicle it used to shade from the Manhattan Skyline and the summer sunrises.
But it has found it’s way here. To me. To the city that promises to protect me if ever someone should want to crash into my life.
There is something about staring at museum exhibits that never felt quite real. Like it was easy to read the metal engraving listing the scene depicted behind glass and move on, flashing from one projector slide of the past to another.
But there is no glass standing between the marble slab and me. There is no blockade in front of the sundial sculpted from that same steel, which, on each September 11th, aligns the shadows of the sun with the minutes that tore that day to shreds.
And maybe there shouldn’t be. Maybe we were meant to be so deeply engrossed in the awareness that somebody else once took this piece of steel framing for granted. Somebody else once thought concrete was impenetrable.
Somebody else, somebody you knew, once told you all you needed was a house over your head. And you forgot that said house didn’t guarantee you your life. That cars crashed and boats sank and trees landed in your upstairs bathroom. You forgot to take three minutes each morning to say, “This is where I come from. Where do I want to go now?”
That’s how it feels to stare at that hunk of steel. Like we ought to get up tomorrow and pull ourselves from the rubble, turn for just a moment to bask in the reality of it, and then use our strength and our heart to forge forward into a future that looks equally as strong, but ultimately fragile, for the rest of our lives.
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