A Day to Remember

By Gabe Pressman
|  Friday, Sep 11, 2009  |  Updated 9:15 PM EDT
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A Day to Remember

AP

The flag that once flew above the World Trade Center flag is folded after being presented at a commemoration ceremony at Zuccotti Park, adjacent to Ground Zero.

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The wind and rain make it seem that even the skies are weeping.

The 2,752 who died here are in the minds and hearts of everyone who attends.

You see them huddled under umbrellas. Wind sweeps across this landscape of tragedy.  Eight years later the hearts of the people who lost their loved ones here still ache. You see it in faces moist with tears and rain. You hear it in the voices.

The names of the dead are read by family members, wives and husbands, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters. And, a fire fighter tolls a bell commemorating each moment on that terrible day eight years ago. 8:46 a.m. -- the first plane strikes the North Tower.  There is a moment of silence. The reading of the names goes on. The bell tolls again at 9:03 -- when the second plane struck the South Tower. 9:59 as the grisly timetable continues... another moment of silence. This was when the South Tower fell. A half hour later the bell tolls once more.  It's 10:29, when the North Tower falls.

Although this ceremony is repeated year after year it doesn't lose its poignancy. The political leaders, led by Mayor Bloomberg, the Governors of New York and New Jersey and, this year, Vice President Joe Biden, turn out. But they seem insignificant compared to the family members.

As these mourners read the names of their loved ones, you are awed by the number of victims who perished in this greatest of tragedies. Two hours into the ceremony the readers, as they follow the alphabet, are just in the L's -- Lee, Lefkowitz, Lamogne, Lenihan, Lennon... The reading is done by pairs, one person the survivor of a victim, the other representing the volunteers who rushed to the scene to try to help.

Each reader ends with a message to the person who died here. You might call them heavenly e-mails. One mother, whose voice cracks as she reads her son's name, even as wind and rain whip her hair, looks up at the sky. Her arm extended, she touches her hand to her lips and blows him a kiss.

Many readers are in tears. "My father," says a young woman, "we miss your smile and laughter very much." Jay Winuk expresses enduring affection for "my little brother" who didn't run away from the tower. He ran toward it to try to help.  A woman sobs: "We love you Michael!" as she reads his name.

Grace Alviar says: "My husband was on the 94th floor. Eight years have passed but sometimes it seems like it just happened yesterday. I carry your heart with me, I fear no fate. We miss you very much. Thank you for sharing your life with me."

A little girl, perhaps three years old, is huddled under an umbrella, on her mother's shoulder. She looks wistful and alone. How will she remember this?  A young woman reads a name and says: "Uncle, you'll always be in our hearts. Your spirit will be in our hearts always." Another woman says: "I'm honored to be here for my sister."

Over the years, the survivors, the people who lost dear ones here, have developed their own rituals. They file down to the pool and drop roses in the water.  Soon there are so many roses in the pool they seem to be nudging each other toward the side. Many mourners clutch photographs of the people they lost. Some hold them up as they speak.  Some carry the pictures with them down to the pool, silent witnesses to the dropping of the flowers.

The drone of bagpipes, the firefighters who lost 343 of their comrades plodding slowly, carrying the flag, the sorrowful faces, the enduring images of enduring grief. That's what we see on this day -- and we'll remember.

Some lines from Emily Dickinson, read by Governor Corzine, seem to capture the spirit of the volunteers who helped on the first 9/11 -- and of all who sacrifice to serve those in need:

"If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain."
 

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