Nine years later, the pain and sadness are still in the air. Stopping by Zucotti Park to commemorate the tragedy and listen to the names of the victims being recalled out loud, each with a story, it’s enough to make your heart break. Dignitaries, strangers, heroes of 9/11, and the affected families quietly listen to the litany of names and ponder how this great city lost its innocence, how it suddenly came to feel vulnerable as never before, yet not defeated or broken.
A city and a country that once firmly believed in the values and principles that made them great and the envy of so many has in recent times fallen prey to fear and anxiety. The thwarted attack of the Times Square bomber, the controversy on Park street about the Islamic community center that’s come to be known as the Ground Zero Mosque, and the media hysteria over a lunatic fringe pastor promising to burn copies of the Quran have only revived the pain felt on 9/11.
This year was not just about remembering—there was a tension mixed in with the recollection. A heated street corner debate between two Muslims about the meaning of the Quran and a a demonstration in favour of the Ground Zero Mosque are vivid reminders that the wounds have not healed. Fortunately, the thousands of people quietly walking around Ground Zero and dropping in on St.Paul’s Chapel at Vesley and Broadway to recall how this quaint little church was a refuge on 9-11 served as a welcome contrast.
Three of my New York friends shared their memories of that fateful day with me. One recalled being trapped in the first tower and being ushered down 45 flights to safety and survival, only to find out the second tower was hit and bodies were flying down to the ground to avoid the flames. A second friend still relives the day when she was within walking distance from the site when the first plane hit the tower. A third friend was further away, but recalled the mood after the towers hit the ground and how America had now become vulnerable to terror and New York was no longer safe.
As Canadians, we can remember how our country was transformed into a large landing strip, as planes were no longer authorized to land on American soil after the incidents in New York, at the Pentagon building in D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. That day all countries who believed in humanity and the sanctity of life were one with America.
The debates that have come up during this electoral season show that American democracy can be messy at times. Hopefully, once the elections are over, the political climate surrounding 9/11 will change and put matters in a more balanced perspective. Next year, the memorial pool will be inaugurated at Ground Zero to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and the hole at Ground Zero is slowly being transformed by American ingenuity. What remains inspiring in all this is how the resilience and the hope that is so much a part of the American spirit remains very much a part of New York City. On this weekend, it is good to remember this.
[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec's Delegate-General in New York City.]