Memorial services taking place across the country
NEW YORK – For a while, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks seemed to slowly shrink. A little less each year. But the passing of a decade is galvanizing people.
President Barack Obama is observing today at all three sites – New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., where United Flight 93 crashed. Members of Congress and other dignitaries will be alongside him. Governors and mayors are leading candle-lighting ceremonies and service projects in their own cities and states. In the media, commemoration will be omnipresent – with some Sunday newspapers thickened by special sections and television networks airing tributes and documentaries as well as replaying the horrifying scenes of that day over and over again.
But while this weekend will be marked by moments of official grandeur, many more memorials will play out on street corners and inside small churches from one end of the country to the other.
A Manhattan mother has invited her married son and his family for Sunday dinner “to be together on 9/11.” University students in Dayton, Ohio, are selling baked goods to raise scholarship money for the children of 9/11 victims. In Joplin, Mo., where a tornado tore the city apart, hundreds of young people are painting wooden stars and planting them on street corners. In Freeport, Maine, three women who have waved flags on the same corner every Tuesday for a decade have organized a weekend of vigils, concerts, a laser light show and a parade.
In Los Angeles on Saturday night, there was a gathering of interfaith groups on the steps of City Hall where congregants lit 500 glass lanterns. Afterward, each congregation – including Christians, Muslims and Jews – took one lantern for a later service at their houses of worship.
The experience of the attacks belongs to the entire country. More than half of Americans surveyed by Gallup recently say the events of that day changed their lives. Still, it is felt nowhere the way it is here in New York, where two 110-story buildings collapsed after they were struck by hijacked airplanes.
This anniversary has so saturated New York culture that hardly a public institution, museum, media outlet, academic office or religious and ethnic group is ignoring it. This weekend the city is blanketed with American flags. They hang all along Park Avenue and along Queens Boulevard. At Battery Park, in a special tribute to those who died, a field is covered with 2,976 “flags of honor.”
With free public concerts and special prayer services, by painting murals on formerly derelict piers and holding hands in silence on the banks of the Hudson River, many New Yorkers are intending an ample pause in their lives this weekend. The purpose is to recall the shock and horror of the day but also pride in all that has been rebuilt since.
New York’s official public observance will be, as it has been since 2002, at the site in Lower Manhattan where the attacks occurred. This year it will be adjacent to the plaza of the new National September 11 Memorial. Only family members will be invited in today; the official opening for the public is Monday.
Obama and former President George W. Bush will be at the ceremony, but neither will deliver speeches. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has maintained that this remembrance should never be political.
In Washington, among dozens of events today, will be “A Concert for Hope” at the Kennedy Center that will feature speeches, including by Obama. Many Americans will engage this weekend by walking to a nearby church or driving to an iconic place in town. In Seattle, for example, at the base of the Space Needle there will be a silent vigil this morning.