The president of the United States and a firefighter brought the wreath to an easel at ground zero.
President Barack Obama bowed his head -- and the firefighters and police who stood beside him bowed theirs. There was a long silence. A shadow from a tree leaf flickered over the president’s head.
Then it was over. The president shook hands with each of his escorts. Solemnly, he walked away.
That was it. The ceremony was brief but meaningful -- for the people there and for millions who would watch throughout the world. Four days after the daring raid by Navy SEALs that brought down Osama bin Laden, the commander in chief who gave the order to take him out, was leading the nation in paying tribute to those who died on bin Laden’s order.
For the people of New York it was a tender moment. And some of those who lost loved ones here were at the site. There were hugs and kisses and tears as the president embraced them and spoke softly to each family.
There’s been a lot of talk by self-anointed analysts and experts and bloviators about the families getting “closure.”
What is that? It’s a term that became popular in psychology in the 1990s. It has been defined as “a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and the eschewal of confusion and ambiguity.”
Well, this may be news to some people. But, if one loses a husband or wife or child in a tragedy like this one, there can never be closure. Life must go on but the families can never forget.
And New York should never forget. The agony of 9/11 was visible on the streets of New York for many weeks after the planes hit the twin towers 10 years ago. I can’t forget the pictures posted on the fences of churches on lower Broadway -- a desperate effort by families to find their loved ones. Missing persons who would never come back.
One woman, Valerie Lucznikowska, who lost her nephew, was asked by MSNBC whether justice had been "served" by the killing of bin Laden. She said, "Death is not justice."
Some wonder if she has found closure but she says, "What is closure? I do not even know what closure means. My nephew has died." She emphasized, "Violence needs to stop before it escalates into a "cycle of violence." That is why the rule of law is so important."
Ms. Lucznikowska added, "It brought me no joy to see that bin Laden was dead. I would have rather seen bin Laden captured alive and reprimanded in a court of law. I do not want revenge. I want justice."
Phyllis Rodriguez lost her son. As for bin Laden: “You can not rejoice over another person dying. I am very happy Obama isn’t making a proud speech.”
And Obama didn’t disappoint her. The president has something that many other political leaders seem to lack: taste.
New York should appreciate it. We suffered a grievous wound. And, while we are slowly recovering, Sept. 11, 2001, will live in history. Like “a day that shall live in infamy” and “Remember the Maine!” this tragic day will be remembered.
I can envision a future when New York school children will make trips to ground zero to learn about this blow to our city and our country and, perhaps, to remember two presidents, George Bush, a determined leader, who promised rescue workers at ground zero four days after the attack on the Twin Towers, that we would punish the aggressors, and Barack Obama, a gentle man who gave the order to take out bin Laden.
The school children will learn that this tragedy looms large in American and New York history. We are a tough people. We don’t shirk from duty. But we are compassionate too and we always try to balance toughness with compassion.