By Matt Cutugno
New York, NY, USA
Sometimes a trip back home is more a pilgrimage and less a celebration. Such was the case for me during the recent Thanksgiving holiday.
My hometown is New York. I was born across the Arthur Kill from Staten Island, and I lived most of my adult life in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I returned in November (from California) to see family and friends, but also to pay my respects on two important occasions.
The first was a visit to my parents' final resting place. My father, a veteran of World War II and a genuine war hero, is interred in a military cemetery in Burlington County, New Jersey. He passed away four years ago. My mother, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, followed him a year and three months later. As per their wishes, their ashes were laid side-by-side at the cemetery, and my brother and sister and I had not yet seen their completed scripted marker.
It was a cool and windy autumn day when we drove there from the city. As we exited the New Jersey Turnpike and were traveling locally, the rural nature of the area was evident. Interestingly, we passed stretches of countryside littered with fallen trees—a memory of recent Hurricane Sandy. We passed through Main Street in Allentown, which looked like something out of the work of Norman Rockwell. My parents would have liked their new neighborhood.
Cutugno Remembrance Marker
The cemetery grounds consist of gently rolling hills and flat meadows, nicely green and manicured. My parents' plot overlooks an expansive pond. As we stood solemnly around our folks' marker, I felt a quiet assurance in the meaningfulness of Mom and Dad's life. We laid flowers aside the marker, and I had brought a small ball, a reference to the game of bocce, an Italian sport that they both loved playing. I fancied that now they could match their skills with other souls in heaven.
The next day, back in Manhattan, I visited the second stop on the itinerary of my pilgrimage: the recently opened 9-11 Memorial. Back in 2001, I worked for a law firm located in Tower Two, on the 40th floor, and on a beautiful September morning I watched the burning of the martyred buildings from the street below.
Now, everything had changed. Freedom Tower, the rebirth of the Twin Towers, is rising steadily. Others buildings in the quadrant are completed or nearing completion. In the center of the reconstruction are two square memorial pools, representing the destroyed One and Two World Trade. They have been created where the original buildings stood. Water cascades gently down from the walls of black marble, and flows into a smaller square. The current moves in perpetual motion, coming and going, like our lives.
Freedom Tower Rising
It is impossible for me to be in downtown Manhattan without thinking about the World Trade Center. I worked in Tower Two in the mid-eighties on the 68th floor; in the early nineties I worked in Tower One, on the lofty 101st floor, where we would see clouds roll by our office windows. And finally, the new millennium found me back in Tower Two, where I was that fateful day.
It's not just the buildings that flood my mind as memories, but the people and the waterways and storefronts; it's the images of lunchtime crowds in the plaza, gathered around the famed Unisphere. It's the pizzerias along Broadway, and the noodle shops and the churches of lower Manhattan with their poignant graveyards set in back.
There are times when remembrances of the past are a hindrance to a focus on the unfolding present. But then there are times when we just have to stop our lives, bow our heads, and recall what came before.