Ten years on, Americans come together today where the World Trade Center soared, where the Pentagon stands as a fortress once breached, where United Airlines Flight 93 knifed into the earth.
They will gather to pray in cathedrals in our greatest cities and to lay roses before fire stations in our smallest towns, to remember in countless ways the anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attacks since the nation’s founding, and in the process mark the milestone as history itself.
As in earlier observances, bells will toll again to mourn the loss of those killed in the attacks. Americans will lay eyes on new memorials in lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere, concrete symbols of the resolve to remember and rebuild.
But much of the weight of this year’s ceremonies lies in what largely will go unspoken — the anniversary’s role in prompting Americans to consider how the attacks changed them and the larger world and the continuing struggle to understand 9/11’s place in the lore of the nation.
“A lot’s going on in the background,” said Ken Foote, author of “Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy,” examining the role that veneration of sites of death and disaster plays in modern life. “These anniversaries are particularly critical in figuring out what story to tell, in figuring out what this all means.
“It forces people to figure out what happened to us,” he said.
The nation’s focus turns to ceremonies today at the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C., and in lower Manhattan for the dedication of the national Sept. 11 memorial. President Barack
Obama planned to attend ceremonies at all three sites and was
scheduled to speak at a service tonight at the Kennedy Center.
The New York ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m., with a moment of silence 16 minutes later — coinciding with the exact time when the first tower of the trade center was struck by a hijacked jet. And then, one by one, the reading of the names of the 2,977 killed Sept. 11 — in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.
And so arrives a weekend dedicated to remembrance, with hundreds of ceremonies across the country and around the globe — from a memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to a ceremony featuring nine-stories-tall replicas of the twin towers on a plaza in Paris.
It’s easy to forget: As much as 9/11 was an American tragedy, it had a profound affect far beyond U.S. shores. Many who died were citizens of other countries. And the attacks set in motion a decade of wars, more terrorist attacks in Europe and Asia and a worldwide law-enforcement offensive that has netted tens of thousands of suspected terrorists.
Today, for all the magnitude of the attacks, some of the most powerful ceremonies likely will be the smallest and most personal.