Friday, September 16, 2005
Carlisle opens its heart to the victims of Hurricane Katrina
It was just four years ago, while vacationing on Nantucket, that I learned of the tragic destruction and loss of life at the World Trade Center in New York City. I remember walking the deserted beach near our rented cottage and hearing, off in the distance, the hum of radios and TVs reporting the carnage in New York, at the Pentagon, and on a field in Pennsylvania.
This year, during our early September visit to the Island, we were confronted once again with another disaster; this time a major natural disaster caused by hurricane Katrina. Listening to the Cape and Islands station of National Public Radio, and reading the daily New York Times, we kept abreast of the tragedies occurring daily to the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Before heading back to Carlisle I gave a call to one of my colleagues at the Mosquito. She was the first to tell me about the Cajun Festival Fundraiser on Friday night. A crowd of at least 450 townspeople and friends, she exclaimed, had gathered on the Town Green to raise funds for hurricane relief. Arriving home on Monday, there was an e-mail message that had been sent on Tuesday urging us to attend, as well as enthusiastic telephone calls left on our answering machine over the weekend describing in detail the outpouring of community spirit, imagination, and desire to alleviate some of the suffering of the flood victims.
It was Dian Cuccinello and Alison Saylor, members of the First Religious Society, who came up with the idea of a Cajun Festival of food and music to raise money for disaster relief. They were the ones who drew up the menu of catfish, jambalaya, pulled pork and Mississippi mud cakes. Along with fellow members of the FRS and friends, they were the ones who cooked the meal that was served to people with meal tickets on the Green. Two professional bands the Boogaloo Swamis and City of Roses provided "fabulous" Cajun dance music, free of charge.
Joan Parker manned the Hurricane Animal Relief table, which raised $475 in contributions, placed in a kitty litter pan. Tom Rourk was on hand with his pick-up truck to collect items to be delivered to disaster areas. Others in town contributed in many different ways.
Kathy Coyle, who worked the money table, had this to say about the evening's event. "Everyone wanted to contribute and do something positive. They wanted to alleviate the suffering. It wasn't just giving money. It was an opportunity to come together to respond to a human tragedy."
Queen Anne's Lace and chicory were swaying in the light morning breeze. Reflecting the sky and some late-summer clouds with their white and pale blue hues, the wildflowers fill up the narrow divide along the Henry Hudson Parkway as we crossed the bridge into Manhattan. Red and white rose hedges separate incoming from outgoing traffic as we head downtown.
Scanning the car radio for some music, the familiar harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel fill up the car: "They've all gone to look for A-me-ri-ca; All gone to look for A-me-ri-ca; All gone" As the scan skips to the next FM station, the hard, rhythmic sound of hip-hop replaces the sounds of silence.
We hardly notice the mellower skyline that now seems to anchor the sky to the buildings below, but as we get closer to Ground Zero we do notice the new street signs. They all bear an image of the towers, or the flag, and the date of 9.11.2001. Along the sidewalks, street vendors sell "I (heart) NY" T-shirts in all sizes and colors, postcards and paperweights, key chains and coffee mugs, all adorned with images of the towers, the flag, and that date.
On this morning, the Millennium Hotel stands tall, with new black glass windows from top to bottom. Across from the hotel, at the churchyard of St. Paul's Chapel, a tall Norway spruce dubbed the Tree of Hope now replaces the old sycamore that fell with the towers on the morning of September 11. A massive 18-foot bronze sculpture, donated to the church by artist Steve Tobin, will now forever memorialize the dead roots of the felled tree, and lost lives of the fallen people.
Nearby, people gaze at the newly erected 7 WTC building which - with its 52-story steel and glass construction - brings back some of the old Manhattan skyline. Others pose for pictures in front of the entrance to the newly constructed subway terminal. Two men are having an animated conversation on the sidewalk, gesturing with broad arm movements between the void in the sky and the maps clutched in their hands. Escalators soundlessly move people up and down between the street level viewing plaza and the cavernous concrete deck below, where many gather around a dimly lit display of renovation plans for the WTC area.
People on their way to work, holding coffee in paper cups, the Village Voice tucked underarm, are rushing down to catch the trains to Hoboken or Newark across the river, just like many did on that morning, four years ago. Others, cameras dangling from their shoulders, come from all over the world to connect to what happened here. They peer through the screens, which separate them from the vast hollow that was once the World Trade Center. Some stop to write a message on the concrete columns. They wish for God to "Bless America," or call to "Remember," and "Rest in Peace." As I pause to read these messages, I realize that people come here from around the world, but for a brief instant, on this cold, gray concrete viewing platform at Ground Zero, we are all New Yorkers.
And there, 70 feet below ground level, in the earth dug along the concrete reinforcement wall that wraps around and holds Ground Zero together, swaying in the morning breeze, tall blades of grass and wildflowers. What seemed to be a lone patch of wilderness amidst the towering mass of concrete, steel and glass surrounding Ground Zero was also a raw reminder that new life can again rise from the rubble.
© 2005 The