Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Restore, Rebuild, Rebirth - An Interview with Larry Silverstein

I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.

Isaiah 58:9-12

A Visit at Dusk
I was recently in New York City for a national conference related to my work.  I arrived in Manhattan around 6 PM on a Saturday evening, and after checking in at my hotel, immediately headed downtown to the World Trade Center Memorial site.  The last time I was in New York, about three years ago, I visited Ground Zero, looked into a massive gaping hole; full of tragedy and loss - and a massive construction site.  This time, something within me wanted to again experience this hallowed ground, now that the September 11 Memorial site had taken shape; a place that has seen over six million visitors since its opening in 2011.

As I arrived at the site at dusk in late April, I was moved by several things.  First, the sense of real reverence from my fellow visitors.  I heard languages from all over the world, and yet everyone was speaking quietly to one another, with a sense of honor for the sacred nature of the Memorial site.  The only other sound one experiences is the constant soft rush of water within the outlines of the building foundations that now serve as Memorials to the fallen.  I was entirely unprepared to understand the sheer numbers of those killed on that day who were first responders.  From my slow walk around the circumference of both pools, it seems that so many of those who died that day were fireman, police, and other public servants who rushed into the maelstrom.  I found this to be overwhelmingly sobering.  They ran into hell, hoping only to help or save others.

Rebuilding and Rebirth
During the opening morning of the conference, we in attendance had the rare privilege to listen to a story of one of the darkest moments in American history, and to hear a story of determination, resolve, and rebirth that is unique to New York, and captures something remarkable about the American spirit.

Larry Silverstein, now 83 year old, was the morning's speaker, and for almost an hour, he related the story of immense tragedy, loss, and his tireless efforts over the past 12 years to restore and rebuild the World Trade Center.
  Silverstein Properties is the holder of the ground lease for the World Trade Center property, having closed on the transaction to acquire the leasehold within weeks prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

During the hour discussion and question and answer period I was riveted by the profound sense of the magnitude of the events of September 2001, and by the dogged persistence of a man and a city that would not give up in spite of overwhelming odds, the paralysis of survivors guilt, pain, and the overwhelming sense of loss.  Silverstein Companies was located in the World Trade Center, and, as Mr. Silverstein related, the firm lost 4 employees in the attack from families with a total of 6 children.  By a twist of fate, Mr. Silverstein was not in the buildings on that fateful morning; as his schedule had him visiting his doctor.  

Mr. Silverstein was asked how he kept his optimism and managed to overcome the odds of ever rebuilding the site, given all the roadblocks and delays.  His answer was: 
"The events of September 11th were excruciatingly difficult.....they were horrendous.  I couldn't just sit in the paralysis of loss, and within two weeks we decided we would rebuild.  I told my people, go!  Get it done.  Move as quickly as you can.  Our mission to rebuild was absolutely essential.  We put our heads down and went like hell.  I have had a passion to create something better than before", and to "Show the world New Yorkers and Americans could and would come back."  He added that it is his hope that the rebuilt World Trade Center would be "A fitting tribute to those who died".  

Can the work of rebuilding mere office buildings be redemptive?  Is there lasting purpose in merely constructing something with steel and concrete? 

In closing, I invite you to take a few moments and watch this moving film about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

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