After 9/11: For Some It’s Time to Move On

September 11, 2011
After 9/11: For Some It’s Time to Move On
By Sonia Verma – The Globe andMail, Canada

As the hour of the anniversary approached, Chris Aldama walked south on Varick Street carrying a single red rose in his hand and an army-issue backpack on his shoulders.

He came to remember his cousin, Juan, a 48-year-old firefighter from New Jersey, who died in the north tower during the Sept. 11 attacks, but also to honour the soldiers that were killed in the faraway wars launched in their wake, and in which he served.

The 9/11 decade

As the world marked the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, the grief was as interconnected as it was intense, with Barack Obama visiting all three sites still scarred by the deadliest act of terrorism in the country’s history:Washington, Pennsylvania, New York.

“These past 10 years tell a story of resilience,” the President declared at the end of the day. “… It will be said of us that we kept that faith; that we took a painful blow, and emerged stronger.”

Yet here, in New York, where families of victims gathered once again in an effort to come to grips with their collective trauma, something had changed. Some had begun to question the point of continuing to commemorate something that can never be forgotten.

The tattoos and memorial T-shirts paying tribute to their loved ones have begun to fade. Some relatives spoke of their exhaustion with the September ritual of turning private grief into public remembrance, and of simply wanting to get on with their lives.

“I did what I could do,” Mr. Aldama said of his decision in 2001 to enlist in the military and later fight in Iraq, attempting to avenge his cousin’s death in a place that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. “It’s still not enough,” he whispered.

Talat Hamdani’s son Mohammad was killed when he rushed toward the trade centre to help. The 23-year-old paramedic was subsequently accused of helping orchestrate the attacks, but ultimately cleared by Congress and lauded as a hero after a long and public battle by Ms. Hamdani, who read his name as part of a traditional roll call of the dead: 2,977 victims killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11th, as well as six killed in the first terror attack on the trade centre in 1993.

“Dwelling on the past does not serve any purpose,” Ms. Hamdani said after she had returned home. “We have grieved enough these last 10 years. Let us live now.”

New York Cityitself seemed a haunted place, its streets strangely empty around theWorldTradeCentersite and studded with police checkpoints, spurred by reports of a renewed terror threat.

“We were just walking around like zombies in a catatonic state today,” Vito Garfi recounted after leaving the site, where two man-made waterfalls now stand at a remembrance in the footprint of the fallen towers, nestled in white oak trees. At the memorial site, which opens to the public for the first time Monday, the reflecting pools are framed by bronze panels etched with the 2,983 names of all the dead, including Mr. Garfi’s brother, Frank. Many used paper and pencil to make imprints of their loved ones’ names.

Mr. Obama and former president George W. Bush stood side-by-side at ground zero for the first time, as a silver bell rang twice to commemorate the exact moment when each of the two jetliners struck the towers.

Mr. Obama read Psalm 46, which refers to God as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Mr. Bush invoked Abraham Lincoln, quoting his letter to a widow whose five sons died during the American civil war.

“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming, but I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that can be found in the thanks of a republic which they died to save,” he read.

Their joint appearance underscored the passage of time, their presidencies bookending the 9/11 era from which the world has, in many ways, already moved on. Osama bin Laden is dead. The threat posed by al-Qaeda has diminished and changed. The two wars inIraqandAfghanistanare winding down, with troops on timetables to come home. Mr. Obama does not refer to a “war on terror,” a phrase whose meaning has eroded.

For Rosemary Cain, whoseNew York Cityfirefighter son, George, was 35 years old when he died, the anger is as shattering as the grief: “It’s the same as every other year. He was murdered by cowards. There’s a hole in my heart that will never go away,” she wept.

“We can never unsee what happened here,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. He stressed the need to share stories of grief with a younger generation, for whom the attacks are already being taught as part of history.

Peter Negron, who was 11 when his father died on the 88th floor of the north tower, said he has decided to become a forensic scientist. “I hope that I can make my father proud of the young men my brother and I have become,” he said.

Debra Epps, whose brother Christopher perished 10 floors above Mr. Negron’s father, spoke of the sadness, but also of the support she has felt during the past decade. “People really do catch you when you fall,” she said.

Many who spoke addressed the dead as though they were somehow present, gazing upwards and blowing kisses to the sky.

One man believed his father was in a place where there was always “fresh coffee, cold beer” and “the Yankees always win.” A woman asked her loved one to “send me a rainbow so I know you’re okay.” A father promised his dead daughter he was “just a few sleeps away” from joining her before addressing the other families.

“It’s been a long 10 years for everyone,” he remarked.

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