Many affected by day's events seek to find a positive meaning
Several firefighters will spend the day helping one town rebuild after a tornado.
NEW YORK -- From a day that held nothing but chaos, confusion and fear of the unknown has sprung an annual day of remembrance that is just the opposite: measured, orderly and achingly familiar.
This morning, four years to the day since terrorists transformed U.S. jetliners into deadly missiles that toppled the World Trade Center and killed 2,749 people, the city will pause for a memorial ceremony that mirrors almost exactly all the anniversary ceremonies that have come before it. Bagpipes will wail, bells will toll, family members will speak of lives cut short, the names of each person killed will be read and four moments of silence will be observed in remembrance of each awful event of that morning -- the moment each tower was struck, the moment each tower fell.
"Time will never dull the grief of those who lost their loved ones on that tragic day, nor will it diminish our dedication to remembering our heroes and ensuring that a fitting memorial rises in their name," New York Gov. George Pataki said of today's anniversary.
Yet for all the constancy of the annual ground-zero ceremony, much has changed since Americans somberly gathered at that still-gaping hole here just one year ago.
Development of the World Trade Center site is moving decisively forward, despite continued controversy about land that many families consider sacred ground. A Zogby International poll shows that although the majority of Americans still consider Sept. 11 to be the most significant event of their lifetimes, a full 29 percent admit to rarely thinking about that day anymore.
And Hurricane Katrina has pummeled the Gulf Coast, reaping a scale of physical destruction unsurpassed in recent American history and a death toll that some have said could reach 10,000, drawing an outpouring of emotion and generosity comparable to that in the days after Sept. 11.
A day to do something positive
Three years ago, on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, families were for the first time given the opportunity to walk in the space occupied by the fallen towers where their loved ones died, and grief was the prevailing emotion of the day. But in the years since, many of those most affected by the events of Sept. 11 have consciously fought to turn the anniversary of that terrible morning into something more positive.
Several groups advocate making Sept. 11 a national day devoted to volunteerism, and such movements have begun to gain traction. One group, One Day's Pay, lists its mission as "working to establish Sept. 11 as a national day of voluntary service, charity and compassion."
The group says thousands of Americans have committed to doing some kind of public service today, and its Web site recently was transformed into a forum directing people to various Hurricane Katrina volunteer opportunities.
Also, several dozen New Yorkers -- many of them firefighters who survived Sept. 11 -- gathered Friday morning at a firehouse on New York's Upper West Side. Part of a group called New York Says Thank You, they were about to depart for Illinois where they would spend the Sept. 11 anniversary weekend helping to rebuild the small community of Utica, which was hit by a tornado in April 2004. Much of the town was leveled, and eight people were killed. The group, which aims to help communities that sent aid to New York in the days after Sept. 11, already has vowed to spend next year's anniversary helping to rebuild New Orleans and surrounding towns.
It is poignant that the Sept. 11 anniversary coincides with the myriad acts of generosity that have surrounded the tragedy of Katrina. U.S. charities by Tuesday afternoon already had raised more than twice the $239 million donated in the 10 days after the terrorist attacks.
But issues that go beyond the desire to help those affected by the hurricane are not so easy for Americans -- and particularly New Yorkers -- to agree upon in a post-Sept. 11 world. There has been a lively debate in recent days about whether the nation has focused so much attention on preventing terrorism that it did not do enough to prepare for inevitable natural disasters. In addition, although a recent Zobgy poll found that 94 percent of Americans believe it is important to build a national memorial to those killed Sept. 11, there is little agreement on exactly what the ground-zero memorial should look like.
A sense of normalcy
Still, in many ways, the truest proof of the state of the country four years later is that life, in many respects, will go on as normal Sunday.
Most NFL teams will open their 2005 season, and the New York Giants will play on their home turf after a pregame ceremony that will involve representatives from the New York Fire and Police departments.
The final day of the U.S. Open tennis tournament will be in Flushing Meadows in the borough of Queens.
New Yorkers will repaint a firehouse and restore a damaged Little League diamond in a small town in Illinois.
And pumps will continue to draw water out of the devastated city of New Orleans while the dead are identified and counted.