Friday, September 13, 2013

So Many Stories, So Many Hearts Broken: A 9/11 Recollection

Yesterday, the nation paused to remember a horrific event in its history. On September 11, 2001, a never-to-be-forgotten date, 3000 people perished in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Of that number, Rockville Centre, a small suburb of New York City, suffered considerable losses. 48 of my townspeople people died as a result of the "largest attack on US soil" on that fateful day.  

I shall never forget the incredible feeling of sadness mixed with panic as colleagues and I heard the news the morning of September 11, 2001. As the media blasted the air with news, it was very difficult to continue the day of elementary school as usual. Colleagues tried to connect with loved ones who went to work in New York City; worrisome looks multiplied; phone calls were interrupted; tears shed. When I arrived home, news of the attacks were haunting the neighborhoods of Rockville Centre.  A small group of concerned South Side high school students, my daughter being one of them, were touched by the events of the day that deeply affected one of their classmates.  The concerned peers formed a bond and brought the school community together in support of their friend whose mother was killed in the World Trade Building terrorist attack while her father was out of the country on business

That night, students, heavy in heart, led a vigil march through the neighborhoods. The sky, lit up by hundreds of candles held in the hands of mourners and supporters, marched in solidarity, bringing a town together during a time of deep anguish. Many people were not among the group, my husband being one of them. Although safe, he was forced to stay in New Jersey that night. Entrance back to Long Island was closed. After hours of no contact, he did bring us news of what he witnessed. As traffic slowed on  road from NYC to New Jersey, he, along with many motorists, saw the second plane attack the World Trade Center. During a night of disbelief and despair his story as well as many others rose from the ashes of a grim fate. There was the friend who led the NYC Bomb Squad searches; the first responder who traveled from Suffolk County to NYC to support the ravaged World Trade Center; other friends who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to come home from the havoc that ensued on Wall Street. There was the brave fireman from our next town who lost his life at the site and dozens of Rockville Centre neighbors who never came home from work that night. There were the charcoaled faces, broken dreams, and voices that could not speak of the horrors witnessed. But in all the chaos and grief, the town bonded and grew strength from each other. Ceremonies, monuments, memorial parks all created during the weeks that followed allowed a town to heal in the wake of disaster. 

The remembrance of 9/11 is a heavy one that never leaves one's heart. In our neighborhood, and across Long Island to New York City children were forced to deal with a harsh reality that life is fragile and dreams can be broken. Paralleling that message was the belief that hope can exist in a town despite devastating losses. Rockville Centre Mayor Francis Murray, summarized this feeling during his memorial speech on Sunday, September 8, 2013. "No community suffered more than Rockville Centre...but we did not just survive this tragedy, we prevailed." 

Stories have been told, repeated, and retold over the past twelve years. Hearts have been mended, but Rockville Centre community members never forgot the losses. September 11, 2001 marked the day for a town to be brought to its knees. Subsequent years have marked the evolution of 9/11 stories into messages of courage, survival and new learnings about life's fragile journey.

PUBLISHED: 09/12/2013 10:57:00     NOAM GALAI/GETTY IMAGES

9/11 'Tribute in Light' memorial

The twin columns of light reaching skyward represent the Twin Towers that collapsed in the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center 12 years ago. The installation shines each year on the anniversary of the attacks as a memorial to the thousands of lives lost.
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/9-11-memorial-services-mark-12th-anniversary-gallery-1.1452110