How New York will remember 9/11

By Cressida Smart

Earlier this week, I asked my friend and colleague, Ali, what she remembered of the events of 9/11 and how she would mark the ten year anniversary.  As she described sitting with her classmates in New York and watching the second tower fall on television, she said, “the impossible became reality“.  Her words, so poignant and yet so accurate; who would ever have imagined a plane would and could fly in to the Twin Towers?

On Sunday, Ali will be watching the New York Jets host the Cowboys at the MetLife Stadium. In the week following the attacks in 2001, the Jets voted to forfeit their game against the Raiders, despite initial opposition from the NFL, who eventually moved all the games, adding an extra week to the end of the season.  This year, the Jets will join the NFL and the nation as they honour, remember and reunite with special ceremonies throughout the evening.

Each fan that attends Sunday night’s game will receive an American Flag. As part of pre-game ceremonies, Taps will be played back, live into the stadium, with the backdrop of the World Trade Center site.  Bagpipers from the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD will perform Amazing Grace on the field and  New York native, Mary J. Blige, will sing the National Anthem.  The team has also invited children of first responders to serve as honorary captains for the Jets.

At halftime, the stadium lights will be turned off and the Jets will ask fans to stay in the seats for an emotional tribute. The ceremony will start when Robert De Niro narrates a powerful moment created by family members of 9/11 represented by Tuesday’s Children.  Following, Five For Fighting will perform a piano version of “Superman” which became an anthem for many people after the attacks when a version was performed at “The Concern For New York City” in October 2001.

Earlier in the day, at Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony will take place, attended by the family members of victims of the terrorist attacks.  Both President Barack Obama and George W. Bush will be present and the ceremony will be streamed live.  It will also mark the opening of The National 9-11 Memorial.

As I spoke to Ali about it, she described the moment she first saw the site after the attack.  It was a “giant pit” and served as a “scary reminder“; she avoids the site and whilst she may visit it again one day, it is something she tends not to dwell on.  She also has reservations about ever working in the Freedom Tower, which is currently being built by the site, not through fear of an attack, but because of the memories the site holds.

Elsewhere across the city, organisations and communities will mark the day accordingly.  One of the most visual and moving commemorations is the Tribute in Light which was first introduced in 2002 as a temporary installation.  It consists of 88 searchlights, placed next to the site of the World Trade Center, that stretch four miles into the sky to create a ghostly monument to the Twin Towers. Presented by the Municipal Arts Society, the Tribute in Lights will be illuminated from dusk on September 11 until dawn the next day.

Echoing the cemeteries at the Somme, Battery Park will display three thousand flags bearing the names of the 9/11 victims.  Called the NYC Memorial Field, the five-day project aims to give all New Yorkers who lived through the events of 9/11 a public place to gather and pay respects to those who were killed that day.

Remaining in Lower Manhattan, Poets House is inviting the public to join hands to form a human chain along the waterfront from the tip of Lower Manhattan heading north. After the event, participants are welcome to visit Poets House, where they will find a place of quiet, or visit Battery Park, where they can post a message or memento on the Poets House Wall of Remembrance, portions of which will be displayed at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

As the towers collapsed in the nightmare of destruction on September 11 2001, both Trinity Church and St Paul’s Chapel in the Financial District remained barely touched.  In the days following, St. Paul’s opened to police officers, firefighters and construction workers as a place to sleep, have their feet massaged and souls salved, eat at the barbecue outside or just find a bit of rest. Volunteers poured in. The fence outside became encrusted with hats, pictures, ribbons and other items.

The walls inside were pasted over with cards and banners. After eight months and a cleaning the church resumed a more usual function, although it did not shy away from its 9/11 legacy, mounting exhibits inside that took on a permanent feel.  More than 1.5 million people a year make a pilgrim’s visit.  Trinity Church will mark the ten year anniversary with a week of free choral concerts, many containing the music of Bach, Fauré and Duruflé. They will feature choirs chosen from cities or states that were directly affected by the attacks.

What of the service men and women who died as they tried to save the lives of so many innocent bystanders?  The FDNY will hold its memorial service on Saturday, September 10, 2011 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to honor the 343 FDNY members who lost their lives. The seating inside the Cathedral will be reserved for the families of those firefighters, but the ceremony will be telecast on large monitors on 50th and 51st Streets between 5th & Madison Avenues.

In my conversation with Ali, we touched on the thousands of first responders who are now suffering from lung and respiratory related illnesses.  It is commonly reported in New York, but further afield, how many know about the battle these heroes face to pay for medical costs and the lack of funds they receive.

This Sunday, the City Winery is hosting a benefit concert to raise funds for 9/11 Health Now, a non-profit organisation dedicated to assisting the rescue and recovery workers who are suffering due to the toxic exposure at Ground Zero and related sites.  Ironic is it not, that those who risked their lives are now paying the cost both physically and financially.

These are a  handful of the commemorations that will take place across New York.  Some will remember the day in private, others will be out in public and there are those who will continue their day with nothing out of the ordinary.  I feel privileged that Ali shared her thoughts on 9/11 with me and as our conversation drew to a close, I reflected on something she said earlier, “the television won’t let you forget“.  The media brought the events of 9/11 to us across the world and ten years on, it remains key to remembering the terrorist attack and honouring those who lost their lives.

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