On May 20, 2016

America the beautiful

By Dom Cioffi

Like so many other people, I arrived at work on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, thinking my day would be fairly routine. Within a few hours, however, the world as we knew would be permanently changed.

I worked for a military veteran at the time so when the magnitude of the Twin Tower terror attacks became evident, he sent everyone home. I drove the entire way glued to the radio as the reporters on NPR gave minute-to-minute updates.

When I arrived home I immediately ran into the house and turned on the television. Some of the first images I saw were the live feeds coming in via the networks, which showed both towers on fire. Soon after, I witnessed one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen: television cameras that were zooming in and out on the buildings caught victims jumping out of windows to avoid the encroaching flames.

I vividly remember standing in front of my tv and feeling the absolute horror as these innocent people threw themselves to their deaths. Apparently, the networks quickly realized how disturbing this was and ceased airing any footage that contained these graphic images.

It wasn’t until a decade later that I saw this tragic topic revisited when I watched a commemorative documentary on the 9-11 attacks. In this feature, firemen who were struggling to access the situation were seen reacting to bodies crashing onto the ground outside the buildings. The horror I felt 10 years earlier quickly reemerged with the same intensity.

This past weekend – nearly five years after watching that documentary and almost fifteen years from seeing it first happen – I once again came face to face with this gruesome event.

Over the weekend, I was in New York City for an event and during a break, I took a cab to the National September 11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan. The afternoon was rainy and cold so I didn’t spend much time above ground near the north and south reflecting pools. They are awesome memorials in their own right, but I was more interested in wandering through the museum that’s located underground.

I didn’t know what to expect when I took the escalator underneath the city, but I can tell you that within minutes I was completely taken aback. The space is a gigantic cavern that allows visitors to see the spot when the original steel spires were locked into the island bedrock.

Throughout the gigantic hall are symbols of that fateful day, like scorched fire engines, charred building architecture and expressive art exhibits. There is also a self-guided tour that takes visitors through the 24 hours of that fateful day. This tour is filled with artifacts and information that bring an eerie realism to the event.

It was during this self-guided tour that I stumbled upon a small enclave that was cut off from the rest of the exhibits. At the entrance to this section was a sign that warned guests about the shocking nature of what they were about to see.

I wandered in out of curiosity and quickly realized that this was a section that dealt with the individuals who ended their lives by jumping out of the towers. There were various photographs that showed those fateful moments, but even more disturbing were some of the quotes that appeared on the walls. The quotes were by people who, like myself, watched these horrific moments unfold. The only difference was that they witnessed the horror from nearby buildings.

I read the quotes, I looked at the photos. I again re-experienced the pain from that morning so many years earlier. But this time, in this space, I felt oddly connected to those people. I felt that, by acknowledging their sacrifice in this setting, I was helping to express the freedom and liberty that our great country stands for.

I left the Sept. 11 Memorial profoundly moved and immensely proud of my country. And I would encourage anyone who has yet to visit the site to put it on their bucket list. It is truly a special space and an epic tribute to the the 3,000 lives that were lost.

This week’s film, “Captain America: Civil War” features another symbol of the freedom and liberty of our country – albeit a fun, fictitious instance. In this installment, Captain America is at odds with some of the other superheroes, which leads to a battle of epic proportions (and an unending supply of fight scenes).

This film is getting rave reviews, but I’m convinced it’s more for the multitude of comic book characters that show up than for the quality of the actual movie, which borders on the tedious.

Check this one out if you simply have to be part of the conversation or can’t bear the thought of not seeing another superhero film. Otherwise, save your theater dollars for something with a little more of an intellectual slant.

An unjust “C+” for “Captain America: Civil War.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him atmoviediary@att.net.

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