Attacks haunt the nation

Marking a day for mourning and a day for moving on

9/11 Three Years After

September 11, 2004|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Today, Americans are getting married. They're sampling apple cider at fall festivals, manning booths at community fund-raisers, cheering at football games.

They're also attending church services and memorial dedications, and helping out at 9/11-inspired blood drives.

It's Sept. 11, 2004.

Even as the nation continues to grapple with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of three years ago, time has shaded the grim associations of 9/11.

This year, as if to further transform the date's meaning, the anniversary of the attacks for the first time falls on a weekend.

Still, for many, this union of solemn and festive feels awkward - reflecting the tensions of integrating a national tragedy into the rhythms of ordinary life.

Resolving traumatic experiences means carrying them with you but not allowing them to chain you to the past, says psychiatrist Richard Loewenstein of the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

Finding an appropriate way to move forward while respectfully acknowledging loss requires complicated balancing - for communities as well as individuals.

The continuing pain of Sept. 11 is partly geographical.

People living close to New York and Washington are apt to know families directly affected by the tragedy and more likely to feel the anguish of this anniversary.

For them, the day emphasizes the difficulties of moving forward.

A tradition resumed

Hoboken, N.J., a Manhattan commuter town, lost 53 residents on 9/11, more than any other area outside New York City.

Today it will proceed with its 78-year-old annual Italian festival and "blessing of the fleet," as well as hold a ceremony to honor Sept. 11 victims and their families.

Resident Sandy O'Connor, who lost her husband, Keith, in the World Trade Center, is glad her community has resumed its cherished tradition. But the notion of such festivities offends other grieving families.

Not far away, Ramsey, N.J., celebrates Ramsey Day, its annual fund-raising festival.

Traditionally held the Saturday after Labor Day, the event calls attention to more than 40 nonprofit groups. There will be a parade, a concert of patriotic music and an opportunity for residents to show appreciation for their hometown's charitable work force.

This year, the day will begin with a memorial ceremony for the victims of 9/11.

That's not enough, though, for Ramsey residents Paul and Sima Wachtler, who lost their son, Gregory, on 9/11. The couple has strenuously protested the town's decision to hold Ramsey Day today, insisting the anniversary should be marked more soberly. They plan to visit their son's grave and assist in a blood drive that honors victims of the attacks.

Recently, Paul Wachtler asked the borough's council to change the date of the festival - a date agreed upon six months earlier by the volunteer committee and officials.

He also read excerpts from e-mail sent by fellow members of a 9/11 support group. The writers were shocked that any town could schedule a celebration on that date:

"We do not expect our fellow citizens to continue to mourn, but we do expect respect shown to our loved ones, friends and neighbors who were the first casualties in the war against terror on September 11, 2001," one support group member wrote.

Another wrote: "I implore the town council ... to leave the 11th as a day of reflection, mourning and celebration of those lives we lost."

"It's not just that there were a few families here [in Ramsey] that lost people, but it's about all of the people who were killed," Wachtler says.

"We're not telling people to boycott [Ramsey Day], but I think a lot of people will be reluctant to go."

Richard Muti, mayor of Ramsey, says the council considered holding the festival - which raises about 90 percent of the charitable organizations' annual funds - on other September dates but decided against them because of scheduling conflicts that included a firefighters convention.

"We don't think our decision shows disrespect to the victims of the terrorist attacks," he wrote in a statement. "There is nothing sacred about the day on which those attacks took place. What is sacred is the memories of those who perished and the resolve of the American people and our leaders to properly deal with this ongoing threat to our society.

"Ramsey Day is a celebration of everything we hold dear as a community - our heritage, our freedom as Americans, our determination to keep Ramsey an exceptional place to live and raise families. This year's theme is `Honor our Heroes.' It is a day for remembering, for giving thanks, for having fun."

Peals of thanks

Today, Sandy O'Connor will return to an old stone church on the main street of Hoboken.

All Saints Parish is a place she has grieved for her husband. It is also a place, with the support of a group of 9/11 families, she has regained some measure of strength and confidence.

On this anniversary, she gives thanks for the help she has received.

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