Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Better Way to Remember September 11

This was the first year I skipped going to Ground Zero on September 11 since I’ve had the chance to go. I was working out of town on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2002, and that solidified my desire to go to the commemoration, which is usually easy to do since I have worked close to the site of the attacks since late 2002.

When I first began attending the moments of silence and reading of the names at Ground Zero, there were lots of regular citizens with no personal connection to anyone lost in the attacks who came to pay their respects.

Things took a turn in 2006 at the five-year anniversary of the attacks. Multitudes of conspiracy theorists showed up in obnoxious matching black t-shirts and banners; the somber memorial became more of a circus after that, and the authorities began allowing less room for the general public each year, and now the general public is thoroughly discouraged from attending the ceremonies. Victims’ families are allowed into a restricted area for the ceremony, but there is little space near the site for the general public.

Last year was pretty discouraging. There seemed to be few people there to pay their respects and lots of people there for other reasons. Mennonites handed out literature and had their choir singing while the names of victims were still being read. Tourists dumbly snapped photos. People handed out fliers opposing the Islamic center planned to open nearby or else prepared to rally for or against it.

This year I didn’t feel bad about skipping because it promised to be even more of a circus thanks to it being the 10th anniversary and the attendance of President Obama and George W. Bush. The police locked down the city pretty tightly and let it be known that travel would be misery. I had no desire to give credence to any politicians in town to capitalize on the event or be a lost soul amid the circus that has become the commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But I will not let this anniversary pass unobserved. The September 11th anniversary requires our attention, especially for New Yorkers. Hundreds of people sacrificed their lives that day in service to our city and country; hundreds more were victims of a horrific death.

Do not let the fact that the attacks have been exploited and abused discourage you from attending a memorial event. That our political leaders have done wrong by the September 11 attacks doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility to pay our respects to true heroes who gave their lives to save others.

You can visit the Ground Zero memorial, which is newly opened and in the footprints of the twin towers. Everything I’ve heard about it is good.

And if you haven’t heard of it before, I invite you to join me in the Tunnel to Towers Run. The Tunnel to Towers Run honors the memory of Firefighter Stephen Siller, who ran from Brooklyn through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center on September 11th. He ran more than three miles with more than 60 pounds of equipment on his back.

Every year near the anniversary of the attacks, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation holds a running race that traces the footsteps of its namesake hero. Many firefighters run in their full rescue gear, as Siller did. The foundation focuses on helping children who have lost parents. They hold other events during the year and running races in other places besides New York but the New York run is the cornerstone commemoration.

The Tunnel to Towers Run is a way to honor the heroes of September 11th, 2001 in a way that is positive and free of political exploitation. It raises money for a worthwhile charity and it’s a way for ordinary New Yorkers to pay their respects to those we’ve lost.

This year the run is being held in New York this Sunday, September 25. You can register at the last minute. See you there.

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