x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mourning and remembrance are part of the rhythm of life

For a community on the outskirts of New York City, however, September 11 was personal in incalculable ways. Almost 500 Long Islanders were among the nearly 3,000 who were killed at the World Trade Center. Of those, 344 were from Nassau County.

EAST MEADOW, UNITED STATES // The colour guard of the Sea Cliff Fire Department stood under the dark clouds and steady rain, watching as dozens of families, relatives of the dead, walked down the slope of wet grass towards the stage, erected near a memorial to those from this Long Island county who were killed on September 11, 2001.

"It's time to move on," said John, as he and the other firefighters stood in the rain in a public park waiting for the memorial service to begin last week

John was one of the firefighters who raced into Manhattan from Long Island on the morning of the attacks.

He lost three friends that day as the towers collapsed. He would only give his first name.

"It's a time of remembrance, of course. Every firehouse has it's own way of paying respects," added Will, another Sea Cliff firefighter. "But after 10 years of pain, it's time to take a step forward."

That may be easier said than done.

Most Americans, like most people everywhere, experienced 9/11 primarily through their television screens.

For this community on the outskirts of New York City, however, September 11 was personal in incalculable ways.

Almost 500 Long Islanders were among the nearly 3,000 who were killed at the World Trade Center. Of those, 344 were from Nassau County.

They were among the thousands of white-collar workers who commute by road and rail each day from affluent North Shore towns such as Manahasset, Oyster Bay and Garden City and worked for financial services firms in the towers.

They also were among the police officers and firefighters from the Italian-American and Irish American middle-class enclaves of the South Shore who worked the streets of New York, as their fathers and grandfathers had.

Remembering and mourning those who were lost that fateful day have become part of the rhythm of life. Every year at the end of August, the familiar traditions kick into gear. Golf tournaments are held in a loved one's name. Bake sales and other benefits raise money for bereaved families.

Many towns hold their own ceremonies and candlelight vigils, too. "Every year there's this sense of sadness that falls over everything," said Lou Michaels, 34, a former fireman from Massapequa.

"You drive around here and you see little things like candles in peoples' driveways and in windows."

For a generation of children, this annual commemoration is as normal as the passing of the seasons and metal detectors at airports.

Dustin, 13, a Boy Scout handing out water at the memorial, was only 3 at the time, yet he remembers watching cartoons and seeing his mother crying in her bedroom. "I remember knowing that it was a tough time," he said. Soon after, his father, a marine, would spend much of the next three years in Iraq.

To a visitor it quickly becomes apparent that even now, many here are still not comfortable talking with outsiders about their trauma.

In Garden City, which is thought to have suffered the highest per-capita loss of life in the attacks, Mike, an executive at an investment firm, warned: "You have to be careful asking people about this right now because the anniversary is coming, and it's really raw. They might not want to talk."

On the leafy town's main commercial strip, 7th Street, Hoffman's Delicatessen and Carmine's barbershop sit next to a real estate office and a boating gear store.

"I really don't want to talk about it with you because I feel guilty," said a woman walking down 7th, when asked about how the town has come to grips with the attacks.

"I know so many people who lost someone and I didn't, and it just doesn't feel right for me to talk about it."

When it comes to the politics of September 11, however, many people here are willing to talk, especially about what they view as the necessity to focus on American Muslims.

Peter King, who represents this part of Long Island in the House of Representatives, is popular here. He has been the driving force behind a series of hearings on the threat of militancy among Muslims in the US.

"I think he's doing the right thing. When someone does something bad consistently, there should be increased surveillance of that community," said a 65-year-old businessman from Garden City, who would only give his initials, CK.

"We are not allowed to walk around freely in their countries, why should we give them every right here?"

Added Carmine Fischetti, who emigrated from Italy in 1958: "The problem I see today is why is it that people come here and see it's not a Muslim country and yet try to change this country? I didn't try to make it an Italian country."

Arthur Martin, who owns a house-painting business in nearby Farmingdale, said deep suspicion of Muslims emerged suddenly after 9/11 and has not decreased with the passage of time.

"I never really noticed Muslims before," said Mr Martin.

"Strangely, they seem to be so much more noticeable now, though I don't think there are more of them. I did some work for some people in Westbury, and they were bitterly complaining about the mosque being expanded there."

Nevertheless, there is hope that the 10th anniversary will be a bookend of sorts. "Thinking about 9/11 weighs less on people than figuring out how to pay their mortgages. They're ready to move on," said Mr Michaels, pausing before adding a caveat.

"Everyone here knows someone who died or was affected by it, and that will never change."

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae