By: Matthew Worsham, Asst. Opinions Editor
It’s interesting to consider what makes a person important. American culture is obsessed with fame, and while some might despise it, one has to admit that it gives us something that we can all relate to. I don’t think, though, that relative fame has any bearing on one’s importance as an individual.
This weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend several days in New York, New York, at a College Media Association conference with some other Flyer News staff members. It was an incredibly educational opportunity, but one of the defining experiences came not from a lecture or a workshop but from a trip to Ground Zero.
For those who are unfamiliar, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is located at the very much still-under-construction World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, at the foot of One World Trade Center. The quiet, tree-lined site features a North and a South pool, in the square footprints of the twin towers, where waterfalls race from all sides to the basins about 30 feet below. The water then quietly slips into a seemingly bottomless hole at the center of each pool, shimmering water rapidly melting into the shadows of the granite walls.
After obtaining our visitor passes and completing the slow march through each security station, a temporary wooden construction ramp led us to the memorial. We approached the South Pool, walking to the border where the names of first responders were etched into the rim. As I stood leaning into the abyss, crossed arms resting against the sun-warmed bronze, I could feel the names of New York firefighters pressed into the flesh of my palms, catching the sleeves of my sweatshirt as I shifted my weight.
To my right, Flyer News Assistant Sports Editor Chris Bendel took a step back and dropped his gaze to the names on the monument. “From a journalism perspective,” he said, “there’s a story behind each one of these names.”
These people weren’t famous, but in that moment, we were reminded that they were important. Some were rich and some were probably poor, of different races, religions and ethnicities. More importantly, some were mothers or fathers, most had friends, and all were sons or daughters. They are important not just because they were at the epicenter of our nation’s darkest hour but because of the people in their lives who can tell the stories of these they loved.
I’m curious about the relationship between fame and importance because of a random event that occurred as we waited in line for admission. A commotion in the street drew the attention of the hundreds of people in line with us, and as I craned my neck to see the cause, a movie star, solidly in the A-list of action heroes, stepped out of a car surrounded by security. He chatted with a few fans on the sidewalk, and then walked down the street with his entourage.
As he left, nobody exited the line to go meet him, nobody jumped the fence to chase him, and after a few quick exchanges with our neighbors, we more or less forgot about the scene.
For a brief moment at least, fame did not confer importance. What we were about to see, the people we were about to visit, were more important than any celebrity, and as New Yorker who has lent his talent to 9/11 charities in the past, I’m sure he would agree.
Pillars of American opulence – hell on Earth – a temple of solidarity. This is the story of Ground Zero, but it is not the story of the people we lost there, at the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville, PA. Those stories are out there, and they are important. I hope somebody has written them down.