SUMMIT, NJ - On a breezy Sunday morning that offered a welcome break from the heat and humidity, hundreds of Summit residents made a solemn but purposeful pilgrimage to the Village Green to mark the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
The devastating events of that day -- which claimed 2,996 lives in New York City, Arlington, VA, and Shanksville, PA -- were the catastrophic catalyst of countless stories of heartbreak and heroism.
Among those who perished in New York City were nine Summit residents -- Mark Bruce, David Brian Brady, Thomas R. Clark, James Lee Connor, Kevin Raymond Crotty, Thomas I. Glasser, Robert A. Lawrence, Jr., A. Todd Rancke, and Clive "Ian" Thompson.
After a performance of My Country 'tis of Thee by the Summit High School Chorale Ensemble, a series of speakers, beginning with Summit Mayor Nora Radest, offered words of hope, strength, compassion, empathy, and controlled defiance.
In her remarks, Radest said, "Fifteen years ago today, on a bright blue September morning, our country was attacked with a brutality that was almost inconceivable -- until it happened. Even now it is almost impossible to conjure up the pure evil required to carry out such an attack. The sun shined, in the blue sky that day, upon a measured, calculated evil. But it also shined upon an immeasurable, spontaneous outpouring of courage and loving kindness.
Every one of us remembers the heroism of the first responders. Every one of us knows stories of the bravery of everyday people thrust into responsibility simply by being in the midst of disaster. But we also remember the simple kindnesses we showed to one another, how gentle we all were with each other in those first, sad days. We were fragile here in Summit, and we knew it. We checked in on our friends and neighbors. We gathered here on this green. We lit candles and we went to services. We hugged our kids.
That is the memory that I want to take with me as the years go by. No one will forget where he or she was, what we were doing, when we learned of the attacks. But we also will never forget the quiet strength we found in one another, in knowing that we were not alone. In our darkest days as a community, we were kinder, more thoughtful, more patient with each other. And knowing that we have that capacity gives me hope for our future. Gives me hope even in these days when we can seem so divided, so at odds with one another, about what path our country should take. It gives me hope that we will once again be kinder, more thoughtful and more patient with each other. I have seen the best that is in all of us: as individuals, as a community, as a country on those first terrible, gold and blue, September days. And that best is what I want to remember. That best will carry us through."
Especially poignant was a symbolic cloth ritual, wherein attendees were given small swatches of cloth which they tied together with their 'neighbors' at the ceremony, forming a chain that binds them together in a shared humanity.
The program concluded with a rendition of Let There Be Peace on Earth by the combined Summit High School Chorale and String Ensembles.
The event also afforded residents the opportunity to participate in the 'Night Light' community service project, with tote bags being assembled for Summit first responders to give to children when they are involved in a call or emergency situation.
The 'Night Light Bags' include a blanket, stuffed animal, and glow stick. The City of Summit is encouraging residents to donate new, hard-cover books to be included in tote bags as well.
Later, at the Summit Fire House, a ceremony was held honoring those who gave their lives that tragic day. As is tradition, the Fire Department bell was sounded in a 5-5-5-5 pattern, coinciding with the time of the South tower collapse.
Long before telephones and radios, fire departments used the telegraph to communicate. When a firefighter died in the line of duty, the fire alarm office would tap out a special signal. That signal was measured by four sets of dashes transmitted five times. This became universally known as BOX 5-5-5-5, the Tolling of the Bell, and was broadcast over all fire alarm circuits.
At the Fire House ceremony, Summit Fire Chief Eric Evers said, "I want to remember the first responders and members of the military that heroically gave their lives to protect others, and those that continue to lose their battle with the many ailments resulting from their unselfish service.
We can honor these brave and heroic soles by staying positive and focused on the important things in life like family, kindness, compassion, respect and love for one another. There is a saying -- “'Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength, no matter what sort of difficulties, or how painful the experience is. If we lose our hope, that is our real disaster'."