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America remembers

By David M. Shribman, Globe Staff, 9/11/2002

WASHINGTON - In Eastlake, Ohio, a huge monument crafted of twisted steel from the World Trade Center will be unveiled. Off the California coast, surfers will paddle across the waves, casting rubble from New York's ground zero into the Pacific. Across the country, Americans will deliver flowers, plants, and cookies to fire and police stations and to post offices. In nearly every country crossroads and urban center, this is a day for remembrance and reflection.

Some of that remembrance will occur in public events, in places of worship, and in the streets; in Tucson, for example, people holding glow wands will form the figure 9/11 in Electric Park, and in Helena, Mont., a riderless police horse will be the centerpiece of a ceremony honoring those who died seeking to rescue the victims of last year's terrorist attacks. Some of the reflection will occur in museums opened free to the public today; in Boston, the Children's Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts are all waiving their fees, and in Milwaukee, the art museum, the county zoo, and the children's museum will be doing the same thing.

''The idea is to give people a place to gather, either if they want to have a quiet time to reflect or they want to be with others at a difficult time,'' said Pamela Kassner, who helped plan today's events for the Milwaukee Art Museum.

But some of the remembrance and reflection inevitably will occur in simple, quiet moments in the office, or on the assembly line, or in the fields that just now are beginning to be full of harvest crops and autumn bounty. Those moments will be unplanned - but unavoidable, too.

For today is a day when the memories will not be suppressed. In fact, they may pour forth: how we heard the news. How we watched the towers and the Pentagon on fire. How selfless and brave were the firefighters, the police officers, the passengers who fought the terrorists over Pennsylvania. How countless small, caring gestures gave shape to the day in a way that we will discover, again, was unforgettable.

This is a commemoration different from any since World War II. This is a commemoration where no one has second thoughts, where no one stays away in protest, where no one doubts the motive of his neighbor, or his fellow congregant, or his congressman. This is a commemoration tinged with the greatest loss - loss of lives, to be sure, but also loss of sleep, and loss of security, and loss of the breezy sense of carelessness that Americans had felt since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We mourn today but we also worry. We worry a lot.

And so commemorations like the ones the Globe lists today on page A21 - plus the moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first hijacked plane rammed the World Trade Center, and the tolling of church bells nationwide at 10:29 a.m., marking the collapse of the second tower - are not just about the past, but also about the present. They speak of the world we live in, where federal law-enforcement officials on the eve of the commemorations placed the nation under an ''orange'' terror alert, only one level below the highest, red, alert.

These commemorations - the laying of wreaths at ground zero, the dedication of a new park in Las Vegas, the singing of Mozart's ''Requiem'' at Salisbury University on Maryland's Eastern Shore - reflect the American character. But they are also forming the American character. No one who will be involved in these events will be untouched by them.

''These acts of remembering reshape who we are and who we understand ourselves to be,'' said Michael Sandel, a Harvard University professor of government. ''These commemorations are an important moment. We haven't yet worked out the story that fully makes sense of Sept. 11th. This is our way of groping to understand. It is itself a decisive moment.''

Historians in recent years have paid increased attention not only to the events that shaped American life but also to the way the memories of those events - the Civil War, for example, or V-J Day, when World War II ended - have shaped American life. They have found that memory itself is a powerful force in national character.

Now we are being called on to remember a brilliant Tuesday morning in September, a date that lives in infamy and memory alike. Some of us will remember in Chicago Botanic Garden, where a carillon bell concert will ring the tune of a memorial piece, or in Norfolk, Va., where an exhibition of funerary urns will provide a requiem to the victims of the terror attacks. Some of us will remember on the Great Lawn of Battery Park in New York, where the Council on American-Islamic Relations is holding a memorial service. Some of us will remember by placing thoughts in a Remembrance Book in Pittsfield.

And there will be readings, carefully selected, somberly rendered. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York will read from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's ''Four Freedoms'' speech, remembering no doubt that one of those freedoms was freedom from fear. Governor George Pataki of New York will read Abraham Lincoln's ''Gettysburg Address,'' remembering that the 16th president spoke of a new birth of freedom after a tragic, bloody trial. The players of Theatre West will perform the American classic ''Spoon River Anthology'' in Los Angeles. It is Edgar Lee Masters' unforgettable play about 244 deceased citizens of a fictional Illinois town, speaking from the grave.

The voices we hear today will remind us of sacrifice and heroism and loss so great that we could not have imagined them a year ago. But they will also remind us of how what happened last year clarified our lives, gave meaning to our values and, for those of us in uniform, or in hospitals, or in government, or in education, or simply in our own homes, gave purpose to our work.

And so now, as the terrible day returns, it is clear why no one ever refers to ''9/11/01.'' The shorthand 9/11 long ago lost its year. Today's events, on another 9/11, commemorate what happened a year ago. But what happens this year, and almost certainly what will happen in commemorations on this day in years to come, will shape our memory of the day the terrorists came to America.

These things will shape us and they will shape the nation we inhabit. For that reason, 9/11 marks an event - and a process. We remember and we are changed by what we remember, and how.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/11/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.





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