Anthoula Katsimatides lives 9/11 each and every day. That day she lost her brother John, then 31. Since that time, she has served on the board of directors of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation. On the eve of this historic anniversary, she spoke to us about this profound loss, and the beautiful and symbolic memorial.
It’s difficult to lose someone you love. What’s it like to have it associated with an event of this magnitude?
We’re suffering. It’s really difficult; sad. We just try to get through day-by-day. Being that we lost him in such a tragic way, on a grand scale, makes everything bigger. It’s a very public loss; it’s always in your face. People always want to know how you feel, your opinion. When Osama bin Laden was killed, it reopened wounds. It’s been difficult for all the family members. Even more so for me, because I’m on the board. I did it because I wanted to stay in touch with what was being built in memory of my brother and the other roughly 3000 victims. I wanted a say; I wanted it to be as glorious and hopeful as it could be and it’s just that.
Are other families and survivors involved?
Yes. There are nine family members on the board, and we’re always reaching out to people for their opinions and comments. The families have always been involved, and they have made the memorial and museum what it is today.
There are two massive water reflecting pools; each is one square acre – the exact size, perimeter and location of Towers 1 and 2. They’re the largest man-made waterfalls. Additionally, the names of the victims are inscribed around the perimeter of each pool, on a beautiful bronze parapet.
The location of the names is also meaningful. Designer Michael Arad, deemed there would be “meaningful adjacencies,” allowing family members to be consulted on the location of their loved ones’ name. My brother worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, in the North Tower. So we requested for John to be listed, not just in the North Tower location, but among those that he worked with everyday. It’s a comfort to know he’s resting in peace with those guys. That’s the power of the memorial.
When you approach the waterfall you hear the sound of rushing water. You see a canopy of trees surrounding it as protector. You look up to the bright blue sky and you can’t help but feel hope, feel inspired. The water, trees, grass, cobblestone – these are all symbols of life. It’s important for future generations to come to remember, reunite and honor memories of those lost, by living and offering hope.
Why did it take so long?
People who aren’t involved don’t really know. For family members, 10 years has been a blink of an eye. It was such an incredibly complex project with so many stakeholders. It’s a very public project. It involves federal funding. Anything of that nature has to go out for public comment – every decision. We also had to be respectful to grieving families. There’s such subtlety in the work and the thought that went into it. Had we not taken our time to do this, perhaps it would not have been done right. Actually, I’m amazed that it happened in 10 years. When people see what we’ve accomplished they will understand.
When will the memorial be open?
On 9/12. If you plan to visit, do plan in advance. Go online and obtain a time-slotted ticket. You won’t have to wait when you arrive. 9/11 is strictly reserved for the families.
Why is the day reserved only for families?
This day is all about the families. If a first-responder died that day, his family will be there and that person and will be honored. It’s about individuals lost that day, not about being led in prayer by a spiritual leader; we all pray on our own. It’s not about politicians delivering speeches. It’s a ceremonial, reverent reading of the names. We wait to hear our loved one’s name. We go there every year and wait to hear it. It’s just about the victims. We are in awe of the first-responders, but this is dedicated to the memory of those unfortunate souls who perished.
There’s a companion book?
There is a wonderful book called a Place of Rememberance. It gives a detailed history, starting from the 1970s to the memorial. I highly recommend that visitors get the book. It will help explain things.
What about St. Nicholas Church?
It’s my hope and prayer that it gets rebuilt. I have faith that it will, because it should.