Families take back Ground Zero amid sunshine, shadows


NEW YORK -- Some arrived the night before, standing until dawn's early light. Others came in swarms at the end, up from the heavily secured subways to these sad, sacred acres.

Some were there to mourn what had been lost. Others came to represent what had been saved. Some came so they could remember what had happened 10 years ago. Others to find a bit more closure so maybe they could, at last, enjoy a measure of relief.

They came to the memorial service at Ground Zero here and heard a choir sing, two presidents speak, and six moments of silence pass.

Church bells rang throughout the city. The bagpipes of "Amazing Grace" whistled around corners. People even chanted "USA, USA."  They stayed and listened to the reading of 2,983 innocent names into the Manhattan morning, an act designed to both provide remembrance on an individual level and offer proof on a global one to all the despots that divide through denial.

"We've lived in sunshine and shadow," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. This day was to acknowledge both.

They came to look wide-eyed up at the surrounding canyons of steel and into the still gaping, reconstructed space where hell came to America like never before. One World Trade Center is being built, a museum is nearly done, yet it still feels empty.

[ Photos: Images of the memorial ceremony at Ground Zero ]

They came by the thousands even if they could barely see or hear the ceremonies, even as the warnings of more terrorists seeking to kill more Americans dominated discussion.

They refused to be deterred or distracted or driven away.

Parents came to remember lost children. Children came to remember lost parents. Others came to remember the sacrifice of all those strangers, the workers in the towers, the first responders who tried to save them, the passengers and crew members on the plane, even the soldiers who wound up fighting wars that essentially began right here.

They stood and prayed and acknowledged the moment the first tower was hit, then the second, then the Pentagon in Virginia and the field in Pennsylvania, then the collapsing of one building, then the next. Each moment seemingly more haunting than the last.

From sea to shining sea, the song goes, and here was this sea of shining people, American people, all races and creeds, all colors and classes, all ages and allegiances. Some with family ties that date back centuries and some who didn't even land on these great shores until Sept. 11, 2001, had already played out.

"The world stopped that day," said Johnny Frisk, who flew from Sweden, his first visit to the States, just to attend the service. "I felt it was important to be here, to show we're a family."

Here were fire and police teams from everywhere: Cleveland, Long Beach, Germany. They just showed up, without fanfare, black bands over badges because they couldn't imagine not. "I couldn't be here 10 years ago to help," offered J.R. Easton, a firefighter from Surrey, British Columbia.

This certainly isn't how anyone who took over a plane that day designed it.

[ Video: Behind-the-scenes with the memorial's architect ]

Here was the full spectrum of human emotions. Lines of the somber yet strong, patiently waiting through heavy security. Even soft laughter, at appropriate times.

Here were the families, arriving with little American flags and clutched pictures of their loved ones. Portraits, family poses, or just images of them in full form -- finishing marathons, beaming at weddings, one out on a fishing boat. They kept coming and coming, block after city block, from the shadows and into the morning sun.

Here was New York; here was America; here, indeed, was the world at its strongest, at its most unified, at its most respectful. Here was the best rising out of the worst, people showing strength by filling streets where ash once rained down.

Here was a chance to steal back something from this place, to make sure that for one morning at least the spot where their loved ones died was alive with the spirits of how they had lived.

"Never forget," it said on so many shirts.

And no one forgot. The politicians spoke with eloquence but it was the people who took the place back.

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