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Wide Mix of 9/11 Tributes

September 08, 2002|CARA MIA DiMASSA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To mark the first anniversary of 9/11, Southern Californians will march in the streets and paddle in the waves. They will pray and toll bells.

Hundreds of tributes and memorials are planned for the next few days in fire stations, places of worship, city halls, even shopping malls. There will be candlelight vigils, sing-alongs, tree plantings and flag salutes.

They will celebrate the region's multiethnicity--an Iranian dance troupe will perform at a Japanese cultural center in Los Angeles, for example--and its absurdity: A concert in Los Alamitos today will include an Elvis impersonator.

And while no one expects these events to end the grief that enveloped the nation last Sept. 11, they will offer a chance to find solace in community.

"I think there is a wisdom, an ancient wisdom really, to grieving with other people," said Harriet B. Braiker, a clinical psychologist and author of "September 11 Syndrome: Seven Steps to Getting a Grip." "It reminds you you are not alone, and it reminds you what's best about human beings."

"Something about interfaith ceremonies and Americana-style parades," she added, affirms "what's good and right about people."

Some events will begin before dawn Wednesday, at 5:46 a.m. PST, the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Other events will stretch on throughout the day, including a nine-hour procession of public safety vehicles throughout Los Angeles.

The need for this sort of round-the-clock anniversary watch, said historian and author David Halberstam, is in part due to the advent of the modern media. "Modern communications knows how to do anniversaries," he said. "It begins to get into the bloodstream of the country that this is what you do.

"A year after John F. Kennedy was killed," he said, "there would have been some degree of mourning and marking." But now there is much more, Halberstam said, and it's a reflection of the media age and the failure of journalists to pursue more difficult and significant stories. Instead, they focus on anniversaries, which are relatively easy to cover.

This week in Southern California, many of the memorials are expected to feature an ardent patriotism that, until Sept. 11, was rarely found. In San Pedro, a flotilla of 15 Coast Guard vessels, fire boats and other ships will parade by almost 1,000 military personnel at attention along the docks.

In Fillmore, firefighters, sheriff's deputies and others will sing "God Bless America" at City Hall.

Fullerton College's "Reaffirmation of Freedom" ceremony will include a performance by a Native American drumming group.

"We wanted to remember the people who died but also offer a sense of hope. It's a chance to reaffirm who we are and what we stand for," said Andrea Hanstein, the public information officer for the college.

Event organizers across the Southland echoed that hope: to mourn the dead and honor the living. They also hoped to reflect on how the world has changed in the last year. And that, said historian Joyce Appleby, a professor emeritus at UCLA, is to be expected.

"Only Pearl Harbor would be similar in the past," she said, "but it immediately plunged the country into war, and everyone's energy was caught up in that. Here, nothing has been asked of us, save minor changes at airports. That has made it more difficult. We haven't been able to act on our deeper feelings of anxiety and grief."

Poet Carol Muske Dukes said she feels that talking about what happened last year is therapeutic. She will read a poem she wrote about the tragedy at events at USC and the Mark Taper Forum.

"I believe in the need for words, for public words, because I think words heal," she said. "And if they don't heal, they clarify."

In Pasadena, no words will be spoken throughout the city's official hourlong ceremony. A procession of firefighters and police officers, accompanied by a bagpiper and riderless horse, will make its way to City Hall, where portions of Mozart's "Requiem" will be performed--one of 125 performances of the work that day worldwide.

Many of the dozens of religious ceremonies planned will emphasize a need for interfaith dialogue and the power of prayer.

"We want them to understand that spiritually they can be strengthened," said associate pastor Dale Goddard of those who attend events, including a patriotic musical, at Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Diamond Bar.

For Bill Sharp, a different sort of tribute is in order. Sharp, a writer for Surf News, will join other surfers beyond the waves off San Onofre State Park for what Sharp calls the surfer's "quintessential way" of dealing with death.

"I just felt that, if you go to a fire station and hold up a candle, that's going to work for a lot of people," he said. "But for us, it's not comfortable. This is the way the surfing community goes about our lives."

The surfers will drop a coffee can full of crumbled concrete from the World Trade Center into the ocean, as if it were the ashes of a dead surfer, to become part of the reef below.

"The great thing with the ocean," Sharp said, "is that you can shed some tears and it rolls down into the water and it's washed away."

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