In New York, hope gives way to grief

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2001 - 11:00 PM

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By Kevin Diaz

Star Tribune Washington

Bureau Correspondent

NEW YORK -- Aaron Underwood searched for something -- anything -- that would help erase the sorrow Sunday as New York mourned.

There, at Battalion 9, the Times Square fire station that lost 15 of its firefighters in the collapse of the World Trade Center, neighbors laid flowers, balloons and American flags around the entryways.

Underwood, a Gulf War veteran, knelt down, lit a candle, and gazed up at portraits of the fallen firefighters that had been taped to the red brick wall.

'I feel better today than I have all week,' said Underwood, a midtown Manhattan resident. 'It brings me solace. You can see all the love here.'

From the spontaneous memorial outside Battalion 9 to countless neighborhood churches and other places of worship, New Yorkers turned to grieving Sunday, as hope that any more survivors would be found faded.

No words

'We need help from God for dealing with what we have witnessed in the past few days,' said the Rev. Jon Walton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, located a straight shot up Fifth Avenue from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, now a tomb for some 5,000 souls.

'There are no words for it, for the confusion, for the total horror,' Walton said. 'Our reaction is still disbelief. We want to look through the dust and see the two towers. But they're not there.'

At All Souls Unitarian Church on the Upper East Side, congregants hugged and shed tears as they sang the last verses of 'Amazing Grace.'

'It's the most healing thing we can do,' said Amy Strano, who greeted churchgoers at the door.

The Rev. Forrest Church read from the Qur'an, searching for ways to replace the city's lingering sense of vulnerability with hope.

'What was intended to tear us apart has instead brought us together,' he said.

Outside, the line for the 11 a.m. service wound around the block.

Resilient people

In a wounded city still fogged with a ghostly white dust and filled with people holding photos of missing loved ones, words like grief and anger have been distilled to their most simple, raw expressions.

'We're a resilient people,' said Jan Levy, a poll worker whose duties were halted Tuesday when the city's mayoral primary election was suspended. 'We'll get back up and poke them in the eye.'

On Sunday, Levy went to a service of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, a humanist religious organization in her neighborhood on the west side of Central Park. The group had invited congregants and members of the public to air their feelings.

The group's leader, Khoren Arisian, a former Unitarian minister in Minneapolis, talked about Tuesday's suicide hijackings as 'blow back' from decades of U.S. government actions that have oppressed or exploited people in the Third World.

While not justifying the attacks, he said, 'You have to wonder what kind of hatred could bring about such an assault.'

That sentiment proved controversial. 'This is not a time to be beating up on America,' said Manhattan resident Vincent Navarro. He agreed, nevertheless, with Arisian's message that it was not a time to be spilling innocent blood in revenge, either.

What nobody disputed was a statement by Lee McKay, a Brooklyn resident who was safe in Minneapolis when New York and the Pentagon were struck.

'So many people were lost, and we're still here,' said McKay, who got home after a 35-hour bus trip. 'I saw the dust, and it was as if the spirit is oozing out of the city. But we're here, and we will remain, and we are the hope of the world.'

What little hope remained Sunday for those still buried under thousands of tons of rubble could be found at Battalion 9, on 48th St. and Eighth Av.

'Those 15 guys are missing, they're not lost,' said Lt. Bob Jackson, a fire station supervisor. 'We're saying missing, for the sake of their families.'

The missing firefighters include Joe Angelini, Al Feinberg, Jose Guadalupe, and Dan O'Callahan, sudden heroes whose names reflect the city's historic diversity -- and, on Sunday, its unity.

'I pray for these guys because I live in the neighborhood and saw them going up Eighth Avenue all the time,' Underwood said. 'I love them because I'm an American, and I pray for America.'

-- Kevin Diaz is at kdiaz@mcclatchydc.com .

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