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Mary E. Nicotera: It was a privilege to tour 9/11 museum

I’m not sure many others have the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan on their bucket list. But last week I checked that important item off mine, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done in quite some time.

As I approached from the Chambers Street subway stop on a picture-perfect day, I was struck by the majestic beauty of the top of the Freedom Tower standing high and above the mix of old and new architecture near One World Trade Center.

The twin reflecting pools over the North and South Tower footprints welcome visitors to the site and provide a quiet time to honor and reflect before and after touring the museum. They are massive, humbling and breathtaking.

I purchased a timed ticket online a few weeks beforehand and walked right past those waiting in a long line to enter.

I chose to tour the museum on my own, without a guide. My daughter, 12 years old at that time, and I were up in the towers just three weeks before the attack. For this reason, I wanted to be alone and contemplative as I toured at my own pace. That said, I was approached by a few well-trained museum employees, all appropriately eager to assist, console or offer their suggestions regarding the exhibits.

Experiencing the museum with me were people of all ages and from all around the world. The atmosphere was quiet and respectful, but not maudlin. Yes, I had a tear in my eye the entire time, but I was never overwhelmed with grief. Everything is displayed and laid out in a thoughtful and tasteful way, albeit at times honestly heartbreaking.

The North museum focuses on the sequence of events that happened on 9/11, starting with the initial confusion and newscasts as the first tower was hit, and ending with the heroism that occurred on Flight 93.

The South portion of the museum focuses on perseverance, renewal and rebirth as the country and world came together after the horrific events of that day and began to slowly heal. This provided a welcome lifting of the mood and spirit as I finished the exhibits and exited the museum.

Afterward, I sat on a bench near the South reflecting pool, gathered my thoughts and then left the site feeling fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit. I also couldn’t help noticing and admiring all of the huge cranes and construction projects underway as they’re strategically rebuilding that part of lower Manhattan. Optimism is everywhere.

It is understandable that some people feel they cannot visit the site and museum – now or ever. But having just experienced this new and impressively beautiful memorial and museum, I would highly recommend adding it to your list of “things to do” the next time you’re in New York City.

There were moments when it was certainly difficult, but I do not regret the on-site experience, the privilege of honoring all those affected and the opportunity to further reflect on the events during and after 9/11. The long, painstaking planning and execution process ensured that the right balance between utter despair and the light of hope and promise was achieved.