This post features photos of the Suffolk County, Long Island, 9/11 Memorial, which honors the 178 County residents who perished on a crystal clear September morning. I recently visited the Memorial for the first time, morning dew coating each pane of glass, which is etched with the name of a resident and an emblem. The glass panes form a room of sorts, with manicured landscaping on the outside and an inaccessible garden of native plants on the inside. The inner garden is designed to grow untamed, symbolizing the passage of time.
Less than five minutes away from this Memorial is the new one, which is the basis for this post.
In the New York metropolitan area, 9/11 never really goes away. It’s always present. Throughout the year, the news media provides updates on the construction of the Freedom Tower and the deaths of rescue workers who were exposed to Ground Zero’s toxic dust in the days following the attack.
And as the anniversary approaches, 12-year-old footage is re-aired as a precursor to all of the memorial services, the largest of which — the one at Ground Zero — is usually broadcast. In between are the smaller, more localized ceremonies, since so many towns and community organizations have their own 9/11 memorials. It’s difficult to avoid the emotion of the day.
I should know — because I’ve tried to do just that for more than a decade. My efforts begin with a self-imposed news blackout and an avoidance of all memorial services and dedications. I’m not trying to be disrespectful of the day; I’m just trying to be respectful of my own emotions, to allow them out at my own pace and not according to the dictates of the calendar or the news.
This year, though, 9/11 has caught on to me and I will have to face it.
A local volunteer fire department is dedicating its own 9/11 Memorial and the Chief would like a small group of bagpipers and drummers to perform at the ceremony. The request was relayed through one of my band mates, who has strong ties to that fire department.
As she outlined the program, my mind tore through my excuses to determine which one would sound the best.
I have a late night meeting. I have a doctor’s appointment. I don’t know how to play some of the music they’re requesting. And the truth: I just don’t want to — can’t — deal with that day.
She then said the actual Memorial has steel from the World Trade Center, cement from the Pentagon, and slate from a field in Pennsylvania — and I thought of the words spoken by Todd Beamer, who was on Flight 93, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania.
“Let’s roll!” Two words that summed up so much. Two words that were a call to action for his fellow passengers to stand up without fear to face their hijackers — and here I was, unable to face the day itself, unwilling to play bagpipes at a service to honor them and so many others.
And that sound you hear is reality slapping me across the face.
I’ve spent the past two weeks practicing the selected tunes and readying my uniform for the September 11 service. I admit I’m still a bit nervous about making musical mistakes or having my emotions get to me.
But I’m also quite sure that this is what I must do for so many reasons: for the victims, for their families and friends, for the volunteers, for my fellow band members, for myself. . .
For the day.