In Lower Manhattans Battery Park, near the site of the World Trade Center,… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)
Reporting from New York — For a while, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks seemed to slowly shrink. A little less each year. But the passing of a decade is galvanizing people.
President Obama is observing Sunday at all three sites — New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pa., where United flight 93 crashed. Members of Congress and other dignitaries will be alongside him. Governors and mayors are leading candlelighting ceremonies and service projects in their cities and states. In the media, commemoration will be omnipresent — with some Sunday newspapers thickened by special sections and television networks airing tributes and documentaries as well as replaying the horrifying scenes of that day over and over again.
But while this weekend will be marked by moments of official grandeur, many more memorials will play out on street corners and inside small churches from one end of the country to the other.
A Manhattan mother has invited her married son and his family for Sunday dinner "to be together on 9/11." University students in Dayton, Ohio, are selling baked goods to raise scholarship money for the children of Sept. 11 victims. In Joplin, Mo., where a tornado tore the city apart last May, hundreds of young people are painting wooden stars and planting them on street corners. In Freeport, Maine, three women who have waved flags on the same corner every Tuesday for a decade have organized a weekend of vigils, concerts, a laser light show and a parade.
In Los Angeles on Saturday, groups of people from different faiths will gather on the steps of City Hall, where congregants will light 500 glass lanterns. Afterward, each congregation, including Christians, Muslims and Jews, will take one lantern for services later at their houses of worship.
The experience of the attacks belongs to the entire country. More than half of Americans surveyed by Gallup recently say the events of that day changed their lives. Still, it is felt nowhere the way it is here, where two 110-story buildings collapsed after they were struck by hijacked airplanes.
This anniversary has so saturated New York culture that hardly a public institution, museum, media outlet, academic office or religious or ethnic group is ignoring it. This weekend the city is blanketed with American flags. They hang all along Park Avenue and along Queens Boulevard. At Battery Park, in a special tribute to those who died, a field is covered with 2,976 "flags of honor."
With free public concerts and special prayer services, by painting murals on formerly derelict piers and holding hands in silence on the banks of the Hudson River, many New Yorkers are intending an ample pause in their lives this weekend. The purpose is to recall the shock and horror of the day but also to take pride in all that has been rebuilt since.
The New York Philharmonic programmed Mahler's Second Symphony for a free "Concert for New York" Saturday night at Lincoln Center because of the piece's spirit of resurrection, said Eric Latzky, the philharmonic spokesman.
New York's official public observance will be, as it has been since 2002, at the site in Lower Manhattan where the attacks occurred. This year it will be adjacent to the plaza of the new National September 11 Memorial. Only family members will be invited in on Sunday; the official opening for the public is Monday.
Obama and former President George W. Bush will be at the ceremony, but neither will deliver speeches. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has maintained that this remembrance should never be political. "No speeches whatsoever," he said a few weeks ago. "It's not an appropriate thing." The program will focus on reading aloud the names of the victims by their family members.
In Washington, among dozens of events on Sunday, there will be "A Concert for Hope" at the Kennedy Center featuring speeches, including one by the president. Even the Redskins pro football team is noting the anniversary at its season opener Sunday by inviting Pentagon families and first responders to join the players in holding an American flag during the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Many Americans will engage this weekend by walking to a nearby church or driving to an iconic place in town. At the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, for example, there will be a silent vigil Sunday morning and flowers strewn the way they were in the days after the attacks.
Cherrydale United Methodist Church in Arlington, Va., is starting its Sunday morning service at 8:46, the moment the first plane hit. The city has a tree for every person who died at the Pentagon, including one planted on the church grounds. Sunday's service will be near that tree, weather permitting.
Why on this anniversary, a decade later, so many small and large events are occurring is not exactly clear.
Angela Loiseur, an architect from Long Island, said she has been weighing this question as well as where to be Sunday. "Maybe it's just the way we do things — an even 10 years — or maybe it's the way America feels today about 9/11," said Loiseur, who is 49 and was in New York, though not nearby, when the buildings fell.
She said she laughed this week when she heard radio personality Don Imus mention that there was so much build-up to this anniversary he was expecting a "9/11 special at Macy's." But she is also concerned that this weekend's memorials will move past tragedy and memory into just another variation on "the media event."
"I'll probably stay away from the television and go to church Sunday like I always do," Loiseur said. "But with a fuller heart."