Thousands of victim’s family members, friends, and onlookers gathered on a cold, windy morning to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
A simple raised platform fronted the rising skeleton of the Freedom Tower. Family members of some of the 2,752 World Trade Center attack victims alternated with workers engaged in the rebuilding effort as they read the names of those who had died. The simple, poignant ceremony was punctuated by four moments of silence, noting the exact times that planes struck the twin towers, and when those towers fell.
“My wife still cries every year. She used to cry two months before, now it is two weeks before. Maybe now we don’t anticipate the dread with as much trepidation as we did,” Mr. Jaffe says. Still, he takes some comfort in the small joys the passage of time brings. A friend of his brother-in-law had fathered twin baby girls who later attended Jaffe’s school. “It’s the only solidarity I can really feel.”
A few major political figures – Vice President Joe Biden, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former mayor Rudy Giuliani – shared the stage with victim’s families, but their comments were short, confined to the recitation of poetry.
Politics, however, were not entirely absent, as family members spoke to the media about ongoing controversies regarding the proposed Islamic center and mosque near the ground zero site, and the furor over a Florida pastor’s threats to burn the Quran. Protests and counter-protests for Park51, the name of the controversial community center, were expected to grow during the day.
Among the earliest visitors to the memorial site was Tavis Moonan, who sat high on a stone wall, alone, by 7 o’clock in the morning. “I feel connected … I certainly remember where I was when it happened,” Mr. Moonan says. “I’m fairly liberal but at the same time I’m patriotic. What it has given us has not all been good, but we are definitely united.”
“I don’t know that there is going to be forgiveness for the individuals involved and for the motive for the event,” he says. “There will be forgiveness for the faith, but the mosque debate certainly hasn’t helped.”
Kathy Usher, whose son works as a New York firefighter, was at ground zero to remember, and to wish for a brighter future. “We just want peace in this world,” Ms. Usher says. “Rebuilding is not just about rebuilding ground zero, but about rebuilding the human spirit…. We can never forget, but we have to build.”
Carl Clark made his pilgrimage to the site early, to mourn while the plaza was still empty. Mr. Clark, who works in finance, says many friends and colleagues of his perished on September 11, fundamentally altering his world.
“This has become the central holiday of the year for me,” Clark says. “Like any traumatic experience, you relive it, and you almost become … entrenched in it, in the reliving.” He is happy that the memorial tower is rising, quickly, after years of false starts. The site has become “an emptiness I can’t deal with…. I grew up with the twin towers.”
It took over three hours to read the names of the victims as the day grew warmer, and family members cried and clutched each other throughout. Some carried pictures or flowers. One woman wore a shirt asking “Who was Johnny?”
“Johnny was a twinkle in the eye,” the shirt read. “He was a trekkie from the beginning, a little geeky at times, and a deadhead to the end.”
In the afternoon, after the ceremony ended, protests over the controversial mosque would grow. But for the time being, all was silent, save the names of those who were lost.