In Twin Cities, a solemn day of remembrance

  • Article by: BILL WARD, CURT BROWN and KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: September 12, 2011 - 4:09 PM

From blood drives to multi-faith services, Minnesotans paused to remember 10 years later.

Hours before a light-as-air ballet lifted heavy hearts Sunday outside the State Capitol, before the Rev. Peg Chemberlin proclaimed "we will win the war on terror only when we release the terror within," before Sheila Ray Charles did her namesake daddy proud with a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful," Julie Gonsoski had her family in place.

Ensconced in a portable chair next to her and son Matthew was a life-size cutout of Senior Master Sgt. David Gonsoski of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

"I like to call it my soldier-on-a-stick," said Julie, 46, of St. Paul, as the Minnesotans Standing Together gathering kicked off with Tchaikovsky's gossamer Serenade for Strings segueing into the utter dissonance of eight people reciting the names of 9/11 victims.

From the Capitol steps to a Brooklyn Center mosque and an Eden Prairie megachurch and in other towns across the state, people took time for reflection.

The poignance of Master Sgt. Gonsoski's image sitting smack dab in front of the Capitol was diminished not a whit by the fact that he is alive and well, halfway across the world on his second post-9/11 deployment "in the desert."

When he checks his wife's Facebook page, the airman will get at least a partial recounting of the sun- and memory-splashed day. He might read about the heart-rending mix of Barber's Adagio for Strings with the parading of a black banner topped by an anguished In the Heart of the Beast puppet, hands covering eyes.

Or Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, warning the crowd of about 500 not to let "fear ... stick a knife into the soul of our nation and twist it until we give up."

Or the Holly's Center Dance Company turning Bruce Springsteen's "My City of Ruins" from a dirge into a sprightly evocation of purity and hope.

Or Sen. Al Franken reading the Pledge of Allegiance and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's voice echoing as he paid tribute to the fallen on "perhaps America's longest day."

Or hip-hop icon Brother Ali concocting a rhyme: "Some people say it's too hot and bright. I say I'm surrounded by warmth and light."

That warmth and light shone through the array of clergy: Jewish and Muslims, Sikh and B'Hai, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Lutheran. A multicolored contingent in both attire and skin hue, the men and women of faith "were like Joseph's technicolor dream coat," Matthew Gonsoski said.

"We're here because we're connected," said St. Paul teacher Marie Jenkins. "You can only watch so much of this on TV, then you have to go out and be a part of it."

Brooklyn Park

The sign on Jefferson Highway announced it was time to "Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbor" at the Ja'afari Islamic Center in Brooklyn Park. In the religious school area, two lines formed for blood donation. "We're about saving lives, not taking lives," said Sameer Parmar, the center's outreach coordinator.

In the mosque, 14-year-old Sakina Walji talked to visitors next to a poster board she'd made illustrating common threads among the Bible, Torah and Koran.

"People think we're violent terrorists, but that's not actually true," she said. "Extremists just interpret the religion in different ways, but Islam is actually a peaceful thing."

Nearby, her uncle Hussein Walji, one of the center's founders who fled Uganda in 1972 and works for Wells Fargo, shook his head. "It's absolutely amazing how 10 years have flown by, and it's not about trying to justify our faith anymore," he said. "It's about recognizing there are bad people out there, but terrorism does not have a religious face."

During a service, Tim Tengblad, associate pastor at the Advent Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, told about 150 people of various faiths that "more than planes were hijacked 10 years ago. Your Islamic faith was hijacked." Then Rabbi Alexander Davis from Bethel Synagogue in St. Louis Park blew out notes on a ram's horn, or shofar, that he explained were, "cries of both broken-hearted anguish and hope."

Eden Prairie

Diann Johansen, her grown daughter and 4-month-old granddaughter walked beneath a huge U.S. flag suspended from fire truck ladders in the parking lot of Grace Church in Eden Prairie into the church with dozens of uniformed fire and police personnel.

"I so liked the togetherness our nation showed right after this tragedy was fresh, and it's so sad that spirit was so quickly forgotten," said Johansen, 67, of Minnetonka. "It's nice to come together again -- at least for one day."

"We must never forget the loss of life and innocence," state Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman told the gathering. "We owe it to them to remember and reflect."

A silver bell was tolled, a firefighter tradition to honor those lost in service, before a lone bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace" strode out the church doors.

Minneapolis

At University Baptist Church near Dinkytown in Minneapolis, worship leader Jean Lubke brought out a memorial banner on which four bells were hung on the night of Sept. 11, 2001, to commemorate the people killed on the four doomed planes.

One congregant, her daughter-in-law, Caroline Lubke, stood up and asked everyone to pray for those who were in Washington and New York on 9/11 and who had to "inhale the ashes of the dead.

"This day, I pray, will pass without those people suffering any more pain," she said.

Bloomington

Memory of tragedy yielded to a celebration of good deeds in Bloomington, linking the sacrifice of Sept. 11 hero Tom Burnett Jr. with the selflessness of others in his hometown. During an elegant dinner with speeches by Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Bloomington Crime Prevention Association presented the inaugural Tom Burnett Jr. Remember, Recognize and Raise Awards.

Burnett was among the passengers who fought back on United Flight 93 before the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. He'd called his wife to say they were going to "do something."

Those words were the motto of the ceremony in a hotel ballroom near the Mall of America. A crowd of about 200 applauded those who put others' welfare before their own. Burnett's sister, Mary Jurgens, said, "I'm happy that my brother's memory can allow people to do something good and bring people together."

bill.ward@startribune.com • 612-673-7642 | curt.brown@startribune.com • 612-673-4767 | katie.humphrey • 952-882-9056

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