Nearly universal remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 Wednesday brought a rare sense of shared commemoration to a world often preoccupied by the differences between peoples and nations.
Ceremonies rolled around the globe with the day, starting near the international date line in Australia and New Zealand as thousands of motorists quietly flicked on their lights at 8:46 a.m. local time, the moment when the first airliner struck the World Trade Center in New York.
To Americans the reaction provided a sense of solidarity in grief and a reminder that the tragedies of last year were not theirs alone. Some five hundred citizens of nations other than the United States died in the terrorist attacks, alongside thousands of Americans.
People everywhere found in the day a message of renewal after loss. The tiny Newfoundland town of Gander held a reunion of sorts. Some of the thousands of air travelers stranded there by the forced groundings which followed Sept. 11 returned to thank their erstwhile Canadian hosts.
"Out of this horror came for me the realization that no matter how much evil there is in the world, there are people who are great and wonderful, and evil will never win out," said Continental Airlines pilot Nicholas Dobi, who landed in Gander instead of his intended destination of Milan, Italy, last year.
Two complicating subtexts provided a cautionary note to the day. One was a sense of foreboding amid US government warnings that another attack by Al Qaeda operatives might be imminent. The second was the extensive international opposition to any attack by the US on Iraq in the name of expanding the war on terrorism.
From Bangkok to Britain, protesters opposed to a unilateral US attempt to oust Saddam Hussein dogged otherwise solemn remembrance ceremonies.
But the dominant theme of the day was solidarity particularly in Europe, where disputes over tariffs, global warming, and global courts were set aside for the moment in the name of shared values and history. It's not often, after all, that rose petals fall from the ceiling of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. But they did on Wednesday, one for each of the Sept. 11 victims.
In France President Jacques Chirac paid emotional tribute to America's military aid in two World Wars, saying "France knows what it owes America."
In Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has taken a strong stance opposing any US military moves against Iraq, but Wednesday he recalled how hundreds of thousands of Germans had grieved in the days following the attacks last year. "It was a powerful sign that endures despite current differences of opinion," he said.
Twin beams of light lit skies in Paris and Budapest in memory of the Twin Towers. Ceremonial tree plantings were carried out from Japan to Belgium.
In Taiwan, the Stars and Stripes flew over the office of the official US representative in Taipei for the first time in 23 years. American representatives have shied away from such a display since ending diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognizing China in 1979.
In the Muslim world, observances were more discreet. No official events were scheduled in Turkey, Lebanon, or Kuwait. In Egypt the government newspaper Al-Ahram held a photo exhibit. Pakistan mounted a similar display in Karachi.
By the time the world had turned enough for daylight to reach America, ceremonies were in full swing.
FOR President Bush, the official day of remembrance started at 7:40 a.m. On a day that was nearly as crisp and perfect as had been Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush stepped out of the White House, just as the sun was hitting the tops of the trees. He traveled to services in St. John's, a small Episcopal church across Lafayette Park, where he nodded as Rev. Dr. Luis Leon said of Sept. 11: "It didn't break us."
Bush's penchant for precision was evident during the official moment of silence. Back at 1600 Penn. Ave., he stepped from the south main entrance at 15 seconds before 8:46. The president and First Lady Laura Bush simply bowed their heads, sunlight glancing off their faces. A minute later their motorcade pulled quietly up, and they were off to attend ceremonies at the Pentagon, Ground Zero in New York, and Shanksville, Pa.
The victims of Sept. 11 "did not die in vain," Bush told the crowd gathered at the Pentagon.
From sea to shining sea, Americans reflected on the day as the anniversary some had dreaded, and others anticipated, finally arrived. In Minnesota, Blake College dedicated a new football stadium in memory of an alumnus who died in the World Trade Center, complete with Spirit Rock, a stone split by a twisted beam from the Twin Towers.
In Columbia, Mo., students displayed a giant quilt stitched in victims' memories. In Detroit all traffic stopped at the nation's busiest crossing with Canada, the Ambassador Bridge, for a three-minute tribute.
At Old North Church in Boston, an institution which has watched over the nation since the days of Paul Revere, some worried that in the swirl of the day's true meaning was not always present.
"I don't think we have the distance to know the meaning of all this," said the Rev. Stephen Ayres. We have to sort out "what is legitimate mourning, and what is just stirring up emotion," he said.
Staff writers Francine Kiefer and Abraham McLaughlin and contributor G. Jeffrey Macdonald contributed to this report.