In Seattle, thousands of miles away from the physical location of the September 11th act of terrorism, people gathered to mourn the deaths of innocents, to celebrate the American spirit, and to express their desire for peace. The cities are on opposite coasts, but share many qualities: a diverse, multicultural population, a busy airport where many transcontinental flights depart from daily, and an internationally renowned skyline. In the background of Puget Sound is a cluster of skyscrapers, like the Columbia Tower and the Bank of America Building. To the north of downtown is the Space Needle, built in 1962 for the World's Fair.
The Space Needle is a unique construction surrounded by equally distinct points of interests like the Experience Music Project (EMP) that is a museum dedicated to American music, The Children's Museum, the Monorail, and the International Fountain. In the summer, it is a favorite lounging area and children love to run up to the silver dome while their parents stay safely dry at the top of the steep embankment encircling the fountain. It is a place of relaxation, of happiness, of peace. On September 15th, it became a memorial to the American atrocities when the people of Seattle were asked to bring flowers to the fountain.
What began as a two hour tribute actually did not end until one week after the terrorist acts took place. It is estimated that over 70,000 people have visited, with over 900,000 flowers left. Only the low gurgle of the fountain, Native American music on the intercom, and hushed voices disrupt the silence as people gather to comfort each other and reflect.
As I approached the International Fountain, I was immediately affected by the silence, the beauty, the smell, and the realization of how the tragedy has brought people together so quickly en masse. At first I sat on the upper ledge, the circumference of the fountain. To my left was the American flag lowered to half staff and far beyond it on a hill the glowing cross of a Seattle church. As I breathed in the intoxicating scent of the thousands of flowers I was reminded that the rescuers were inhaling something quite different. The news reported that the stench at Ground Zero was pungent. I was surrounded by diversity, what Seattle is proud of: children gleeful to be up so late on a school night, Asians, elderly, African-Americans, young couples paying their respect before they go dancing at a local club, Caucasians, disabled, Latin Americans, people bowing their head in prayer, and people I am sure will be closely scrutinized in airports for a very long time - possibly forever - because of their Middle Eastern ethnicity. There were tv broadcasters. Security officers. Police.
Every kind of flower was represented at the International Fountain. Many were obviously purchased from the flower vendors at Pike Place Market. Some of the bouquets are wrapped in the Seattle Times published the day after the attack. I see a wedding bouquet. Directly in front of me was a single, home-grown white rose laid on the steep embankment, as many flowers were once the area closest to the fountain was filled. As I wound my way around the spiral trail to the fountain, through several flower bowers I see people have left, not just flowers but also candles, stuffed animals, poems, sketches, balloons. Entangled in the flowers were chalk drawings on the cement: an American flag, the words God Bless America, and We Shall Overcome.
A plane flew overhead, not discernable through the thick cloud cover but startling. Airplanes seem louder than they used to be. Many people looked up to the sky and then quickly down again. Someone from the crowd shouted, “God Bless America!” and a din of clapping, whistling, and shouting erupted. It was enthusiastic, sincere, and loud—it was also brief. The reverence returned.
It was hard to leave the International Fountain. I wanted to memorize everything because I know that someday my children will ask me what it was like. This is all so overwhelming that I am sure that I will never be adequately able to describe it. I will try to convey to them my experience, but just like I can't comprehend what it was like to live through the assassination of a president, as my mom did, I pray that they will never have something to compare to this to. It will be in their history books. They will memorize the date, the places, the sequence of events and outcome. But that is probably all it can be to them.
Next to packages of tissue are post-it notes and pens which people used to write notes of encouragement for others. I also felt compelled to, and the first thing that came to my mind was Ecclesiastes 3:1, that "there is a time for everything."
Let this be our time of peace.
Nicole Janeen Jones is a 1996 graduate from the English program at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse. She currently works at Microsoft as a proofreader. She also freelance writes and edits. She lives in Redmond, Washington and enjoys reading, playing music, and photography.